A tenant in a Halifax apartment building says he feels “unsafe” after seven people were hospitalized due to a carbon monoxide leak over the weekend.
Halifax Regional Police spokesperson Const. John MacLeod said officers assisted Emergency Health Services with a person in medical distress at an apartment building on Joseph Howe Drive Sunday morning shortly after 10 a.m.
“While on scene officers were approached by a number of other residents of the apartment building who were feeling unwell.”
Emergency Health Services assessed and transported seven people to hospital, and the Canadian Red Cross provided care for 21 displaced tenants, including one child.
Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency deputy chief Dave Meldrum said firefighters arrived as the building was being evacuated, and using portable gas detection equipment, fire crews “found high carbon monoxide levels on all three floors.”
Nova Scotia Health nor EHS would provide an update on the seven patients citing privacy legislation, and Meldrum said the fire department was unable to do an interview.
CO ‘pumped into’ building
According to a partially redacted incident report from Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, firefighters responded to 3135 Joseph Howe Dr. shortly after 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
There, they found carbon monoxide levels of 150 to 160 parts per million (ppm) on all three floors. In the furnace room, they found levels as high as 1,700 ppm.
According to the Department of Labour, acceptable levels of carbon monoxide are usually 25 ppm or less, though it depends on the situation and occupancy.
Follow-up readings from 12:48 p.m. showed levels from 50 ppm to a peak of 263 ppm. Crews then ventilated the building until a reading of zero was reached.
The report went on to say that a crew member shut off gas to the building. A fire captain discovered a disconnected exhaust pipe from the natural gas furnace, causing raw CO to have been “pumped into (the) building for considerable time.”
The report also said crews reached a contact for the building — not the owner — and requested that they contact a repair person for the furnace. Heritage Gas arrived on site and locked out the meter, and a gas inspector from the Department of Labour was called in to investigate.
‘I still feel unsafe’
A tenant of the building, Vishal Yadav, said the leak was discovered when a woman living in the building’s downstairs had to be taken to hospital after experiencing dizziness and falling down.
He said people had been experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning before they were evacuated.
“Everyone was having a lot of headaches during that day,” said Yadav, who had been living there for three months.
Yadav said tenants have since been allowed to return to the building, but he is concerned about what happened.
“I still feel unsafe,” he said.
His roommate, Prince Sharma, said he is also worried.
“When we (first) got into this apartment, we were quite confident because as it was a freshly renovated apartment,” he said. “We were not expecting this.
“But now it feels like we don’t have that confidence left anymore. Anything can happen at any time.”
Sharma added that he has had no communication from the property owner, only the property manager.
Reached by phone, a representative of the building owner, Kwesi Ellis of Toronto, said Ellis will not be commenting on the matter.
“He has nothing to say,” said the representative, who identified himself only as Mike, before promptly hanging up.
Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency’s incident report suggested repairs were delayed due to challenges in reaching the property owner and finding the furnace certificate.
The furnace certificate was later found and the Department of Labour granted permission to try to get the furnace going, but “it was determined there was no fresh air return in the area so a pipe was run up the chimney to provide fresh air.”
The Department of Labour was “not satisfied” and determined the furnace needed to be replaced, the report said.
Scott Nauss, the senior executive director of safety with Labour, Skills and Immigration, said the department is still in the early stages of the investigation, though they are focusing on the furnace and making sure it’s in working order.
Nauss said it’s “too early to tell” if there will be any enforcement action taken against the property owner. “Anything’s possible,” he said.
Enforcement actions could range from a compliance order to fix equipment, to “a long-form prosecution.”
With winter around the corner, Nauss said it’s important for people to keep their homes safe by installing carbon monoxide detectors and avoiding actions that could lead to a buildup.
“I urge folks to make sure that their combustible heating devices are working as per manufacturer specifications, do not use any outdoor heating devices indoors,” he said. “Do not operate any generators indoors as well, and do not block any ventilation for any heating equipment.”
According to Health Canada, signs of carbon monoxide poisoning at low levels can include flu-like symptoms like tiredness, headaches, shortness of breath, and impaired motor functions.
At increased levels, people can experience dizziness, chest pain, poor vision and difficulty thinking. Very high levels of carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to convulsions, loss of consciousness, comas and death.
— with files from Skye Bryden-Blom