Skip to content

Conservative leader warns of toxic fumes at Victoria supportive housing site

BC Housing says Cool Aid Society has been working on mitigation strategies since last fall
John Rustad, leader of the B.C. Conversative Party, is disturbed by the use of gas masks at the Tally Ho, a supportive housing development operated by Cool Aid Society. (The Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito)

BC Conservative Party leader John Rustad says gas masks are required at Tally Ho, a Cool Aid Society-operated supportive housing site in Victoria, due to toxic fumes.

However, BC Housing says fume levels have decreased since the issue was first raised in November 2023, and respiratory masks – not gas masks – were mandated to protect staff.

“What we’re seeing with that program, quite frankly, is disturbing,” Rustad said at a media scrum on April 10.

A worker with WorkSafeBC had approached Rustad to complain, but no further details were provided to Black Press Media.

“I don’t believe that workers should be subjected to second-hand smoke from drugs.”

B.C.’s Housing Ministry and BC Housing told Black Press Media in an emailed statement Wednesday (April 10) that they are aware of the impacts of second-hand exposure to unregulated substances.

Cool Aid Society has been working with WorkSafeBC to maintain safe air quality around the building. This includes regularly engaging with WorkSafeBC and implementing mitigation strategies, such as respiratory masks for staff and contractors and a strict no-smoking indoors policy.

Most respirators cover only the nose and mouth, protecting against particles, bacteria, and low concentrations of fumes. Gas masks cover the entire face and are used for more dangerous environmental airborne hazards.

According to the email from BC Housing, the levels of toxic fumes in the environment have decreased significantly.

Tally Ho has been deemed unfit for long-term housing, and plans are being made to replace it with the Crosstown development and provide 52 units of permanent supportive housing.

BC Housing and Cool Aid Society said they are aware of the problems at Tally Ho and that residents will be moving to the new Crosstown development that will add 102 affordable apartments to the site, plus 52 new homes. (Provided by Cool Aid Society)

The building has a designated outdoor-smoking area located at an appropriate distance from the building to prevent smoke from entering and is equipped with a robust HVAC system.

Once the building is complete, residents of Tally Ho will receive assistance in relocating to the new housing. Crosstown will strictly enforce a no indoor smoking policy.

Construction is underway and expected to be completed this fall.

BC Housing says Cool Aid Society has taken the following steps to ensure the safety of staff and residents:

• Implemented a no-visitor policy at the Tally Ho.

• Implemented a no smoking of any kind policy except in the designated area outdoors, as there have been cases of individuals smoking fentanyl and methamphetamine in cigarettes.

• Installed fencing around the building to deter non-residents from loitering.

• Distributed notices and held an in-person Q&A with tenants to brief them on the situation.

• Relocated some tenants who requested this to other Cool Aid housing sites.

• Required all employees to wear a fit-tested respiratory mask when knocking on resident doors where there is a risk of exposure.

• Issued a notice to external health care providers including police, fire and BC Emergency Health Services, contractors and other agencies who visit the site to advise of the findings, and to advise that people would not be permitted to attend the site unless wearing a fit-tested respiratory mask.

Black Press Media has reached out to Cool Aid Society for comment, but did not hear back by publication.

Rustad comments came after he criticized the safer supply program, stating it had caused harm and endangered workers.

“Open drug use should not be allowed inside like this.”

He said that the whole program was unacceptable and that the investment of millions of dollars was only making the problem of drug addiction worse.

READ MORE: Renters rebate ripe for the picking for qualifying Victorians

About the Author: Thomas Eley

Read more