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Victoria supportive housing provider says concerning levels of fentanyl found in air-quality tests

Victoria Cool Aid Society’s senior leadership team says the fentanyl in the air at its 3020 Douglas Street site showed up in concentrations “of concern and exceeding the occupational exposure limit.” (Google Maps) Victoria Cool Aid Society’s senior leadership team says the fentanyl in the air at its 3020 Douglas Street site showed up in concentrations “of concern and exceeding the occupational exposure limit.” (Google Maps)
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A Greater Victoria housing provider is introducing new safety measures at one of its supportive housing sites after air-quality testing found fentanyl concentrations inside.

In a memo to external service providers and contractors, Victoria Cool Aid Society’s senior leadership team says the fentanyl in the air at its 3020 Douglas Street site showed up in concentrations “of concern and exceeding the occupational exposure limit.”

“We don’t want anyone to be exposed who doesn’t choose to do so,” says Cool Aid’s director of housing and shelters, Don McTavish.

He says Cool Aid was getting reports from workers about second-hand smoke exposures at the site at a rate it hasn’t seen before. Staff were getting sick with symptoms, such as vomiting and headaches.

McTavish says the non-profit started exploring some of the reasons why and hired a company to do air-quality testing, which generated the results.

“We’re really trying to make sure it’s a safe environment for people,” he says. “Residents who don’t smoke in the building, we’re trying to work with to find avenues to keep them safe as well. And the ones who do smoke, they’re really understanding and working with us all on this. Honestly, at the end of the day they’re medicating to try and address trauma they feel so they don’t want to harm anyone else either.”

Cool Aid suspects there are a few reasons for the positive results, including more people shifting to smoking drugs as opposed to other methods, such as injection. It believes fentanyl’s rising toxicity is to blame and it says the housing facility is running in an old motel with sub-par ventilation.

“Until we re-test, we’ve asked staff to wear masks," says McTavish. "We’ve been working really close with WorkSafe all through this in a proactive way that was initiated by us."

WorkSafeBC also acknowledges it’s working with Cool Aid.

“WorkSafeBC advises that employers must take steps to protect their workers from exposure to second-hand smoke, whether from unregulated drugs or any others source,” says spokesperson Ashley Gregerson.

Employees also have the right to refuse unsafe work.

“The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations spells out the right of a worker to refuse work if there is reasonable cause to believe it would create an undue hazard to their health and safety,” adds Gregerson.

BC Housing says the safety of its residents, staff and partners is of highest priority.

“We are taking this situation seriously,” says the provincial agency. “BC Housing is in conversations with Cool Aid and government partners to understand more about the nature of the issue so that we can arrive at an effective resolution that keeps people safe.”

The supportive housing site on Douglas is being redeveloped, so McTavish says the number of tenants inside is winding down with about 45 residents left.

Cool Aid says it’s a non-smoking building. New fencing has been installed and visitors are being discouraged from the site.

Cool Aid plans to re-test in a couple weeks to see if the new protocols are working.

“If fentanyl is in the air due to illicit second-hand smoke it’s likely in more places than just one, of course, and so we’re all looking into it,” says McTavish.

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