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Toxic trouser trouble for Zurich prison officers

Prison officers in Zurich are currently working without their regulation trousers

(Keystone Archive)

Prison officers in Zurich have been forced to hand over their trousers after the discovery that the pockets contained dangerously high levels of benzidine.

The toxic substance was only found when an employee at one of the canton’s prisons complained of a severe leg rash after trying on the garment.

Around 3,200 new pairs of trousers were recently issued to prison officers in Zurich as part of a revamp of their regulation uniform.

Red-faced officials at the Swiss textile company which delivered the items of clothing say the entire order has been sent back to them pending an investigation.

“We were only informed the other day about the presence of the poisonous substance,” said the director of Gygax-Tegofil, René Gygax.

According to the company – which promotes itself as one of the country’s leading retailers of “security fashion” – up to three other orders have also been recalled in connection with the discovery of benzidine in trouser pockets.

Gygax-Tegofil’s other clients include football’s world governing body, Fifa, the Swiss Federal Railways and Securicor, but the company said it was very unlikely that they would be affected by the recall order.

Hazardous chemical

The presence of benzidine, a hazardous chemical used to produce dyes, came to light after a prison officer showed his superiors a rash on the upper part of his leg.

Laboratory tests found that the pockets contained unacceptably high levels of the substance.

“We were informed by the authorities that this chemical could in very extreme cases cause cancer,” said Zurich prison service director Viktor Gähwiler.

But chemical expert Rolf Etter, the Zurich official who examined the toxic trousers, played down the health risk.

“The chances of getting cancer are very small,” he said, adding that the probability of falling sick after such limited exposure was “one in a million”.

But Gähwiler is taking no chances and has given his officers permission to wear their own blue jeans on the job while a new uniform order is prepared and dispatched.

Gygax-Tegofil, which is based in canton Aargau, has assured the authorities in Zurich that they will come up with a solution to the problem and issue new, chemical-free trousers “as soon as possible”.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Prison officers in Zurich have returned 3,200 pairs of trousers to the manufacturer after the discovery of a toxic substance in the pockets.

Laboratory tests showed traces of benzidine, a chemical which in extreme cases can cause cancer.

Prison officers are being allowed to work in jeans while the problem is resolved.

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