© Jennifer Hoegg - Kingscountynews.ca
Margaret MacNeil, 80, has been fighting for smoke-free housing for seniors since the 1990s. She’s frustrated her officially smoke-free apartment complex in Wolfville still harbours puffers.
By Wendy Elliott and Jennifer Hoegg
Almost two years ago, a Wolfville senior began to complain to the West Regional Housing Authority about indoor air pollution.
A year later, Margaret MacNeil, then 79 years old, had to call 911 after second-hand smoke provoked her asthma. The RCMP confirmed there was a tobacco odour in her apartment.
At that point, the authority allowed existing tenants to smoke, but no new smoking tenants were allowed to move in.
Smoke Free Kings advocated on MacNeil’s behalf. Wolfville was the first community in Nova Scotia to ban smoking in indoor public places.
In March 2012, a decision had been reached to make the Woodland Apartments smoke-free by March 2013; however, it appears that not all residents have abided by the new rule.
According to MacNeil, at least one and possibly two tenants have continued to smoke inside their units. One did move out.
As a result of the smell of smoke, Kerley Lake, who also lives in the building, has a cardboard and plastic insert in a vent to prevent smoke entering his apartment.
Both MacNeil and Lake wonder why tenants who persist in smoking in a designated smoke-free public building aren’t evicted, especially since the two of them have experienced negative health impacts because of the fumes.
Elizabeth MacDonald, communications advisor for the
Department of Community Services, responded by saying, “We know how important it is for all Nova Scotians to have safe, healthy affordable homes. Out of respect for privacy for our clients and residents, we cannot speak to specific situations; however, we can say that if there was evidence that a resident of a non-smoking building was found to be smoking, housing authority staff would resolve the situation in an appropriate manner.”
When asked if the air system in the building might be at fault, MacDonald said, “there is never a need to ‘flush’ the ventilation systems in our residential buildings in this situation because they are designed not to recirculate air within the building.
“Only 100 per cent fresh air is drawn into a building through its ventilation system,” she said. All exhaust air, from kitchens, bathrooms, laundries, garbage and mechanical rooms is vented outside the building.
MacNeil disagrees with that assertion.
“We haven’t got that, honey,” she says. “I’m sorry, we don’t have that here. Don’t anybody tell the truth anymore?”
Now an octogenarian, MacNeil has reached the point of feeling harassed, having been presented with a list of questions and asked for evidence and documentation. She just wants to be able to breathe unpolluted air in her publicly-owned seniors’ apartment.
MacNeil said a housing authority official told her Oct. 1 she needed to record the dates and times she smelled smoke and be prepared to go before the Residential Tenancies board if she wanted something done.
“’That’s not my job,’ I said. ‘That’s your job’,” MacNeil recounted. “It’s up to housing, not up to the tenants.”
MacNeil says she has asthma and reactive airways. “When I’m exposed to secondhand smoke, my airways shut down. If I don’t get oxygen in five minutes, I’m history.”
She said her fight, which helped make the building smoke-free, is not just for her own benefit.
“There’s other people with puffers, heart trouble and diabetes in that building, she said. “It’s for the good of everybody.”
Her neighbours are supportive, she said, except for a few.
“The smokers are not happy with me.”