City confirms 2 carbon monoxide ventilation incidents as Winnipeg councillor seeks hookah regulation

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service says it had to air out two downtown Winnipeg hookah lounges after finding high levels of carbon monoxide, vindicating claims made last month by Coun. Cindy Gilroy.

On Jan. 26, when the councillor for the inner city’s Daniel McIntyre ward proposed new regulations for hookah businesses, she said emergency crews were forced to abruptly shut down two of them due to carbon monoxide.

At the time, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said it had no record of any such events occurring over the past year. Coun. Gilroy stood by her statement, insisting she was informed of the carbon monoxide incidents by city officials.

This week, the WFPS notified CBC News it does in fact possess records of two occasions when emergency crews measured elevated carbon monoxide levels at hookah lounges.

The first incident occurred on June 13, 2022, when the fire paramedic service ventilated a hookah business on Portage Avenue after measuring carbon monoxide readings of 55 parts per million, according to a city statement.

The second took place on Oct. 30, 2022, when the WFPS aired out a business offering hookah on Kennedy Street after taking a carbon monoxide reading of 86 parts per million, according to the statement.

Levels in that range are considered unsafe but not lethal. According to a guide published by the fire commissioner’s office in Manitoba, the recommended exposure limit to carbon monoxide is 25 parts per million over one hour.

Carbon monoxide alarms are supposed to go off within one to four hours of reading a concentration of 70 parts per million, according to the guide. At 200 parts per million, people start to get dizzy and suffer from headaches, while humans can die within hours of being exposed to concentrations of 800 parts per million.

Manual search needed: WFPS

Kristin Cuma, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg Fire-Paramedic Service, said her department could not initially locate records of the carbon monoxide incidents because it does not keep track of incidents by the specific product or service a business has on offer, such as hookah.

“Data records had to be searched for manually,” she said.

CBC News was unable to reach the owners of the hookah businesses ventilated by the fire paramedic service.

Coun. Cindy Gilroy’s motion to look into hookah regulations is expected to come before council’s community services committee on Feb. 28. (Travis Golby CBC)

Coun. Gilroy, meanwhile, is continuing to pursue her January motion to consider regulating hookah lounges in Winnipeg.

Her motion calls for the city to examine hookah rules in other Canadian cities and to consult with the provincial Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority on ventilation and workplace safety requirements for hookah businesses.

That motion is expected to come before council’s community services committee on Feb. 28.

“There is no requirement for a carbon monoxide detector or proper ventilation,” Gilroy said in a January statement. “This is a life safety issue that is impacting not only Winnipeg, but all major cities.”

Lisa Hansen, a spokesperson for the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority, said her agency has no jurisdiction over hookah products. She deferred questions about hookah regulations to the province.

Manitoba Public Health confirmed it does not issue permits or licences for hookah lounges, nor does it inspect them.

“However, it is an issue that is being looked at very closely,” the province said in a statement it did not attribute to any official.

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