The Ventless Vent

February 20th, 2009 by

When is a vent not a vent? When it doesn’t vent. Here is a toxic conundrum for a Friday, from our neighbors to the north in Vancouver. Appropriate material, perhaps, for the 1,000th Insider entry.
For two years Jim Mulally worked as an attendant in an underground parking garage. He and his fellow attendants collected parking fees for EasyPark Vancouver, which manages a city-owned underground parking garage in the downtown library square complex. The city leases space in the building to McDonald’s and other restaurants. Instead of blowing restaurant exhaust outside the building, where it belongs, the ventilation system blows it into the enclosed parking lot, right next to the toll booths. This vent system doesn’t vent.
Parking attendants say they are literally sick after years of breathing foul fumes from the restaurant.
“The headaches kicked in within an hour of showing up,” Mulally says.
Who Owns the Problem?
The city believes the problem should be solved by the two restaurants, McDonalds and Kamiya Sushi (fumes from a sushi bar?). In a letter disclaiming any responsibility for the liability-laden situation, the city goes on to write that “the odour of fried food is measurably better than the odours of rotting garbage, feces, animal rendering … or other industrial processes.” Well, that’s true, but of little consolation to the workers who must inhale the fetid air.
Domenic Losito, regional director of health protection for Vancouver Coastal Health, said studies indicate the cooking oil particles coming out of the vent could increase the workers’ risk of developing cancer.
“There is a slightly elevated risk of cancer from those fine particles that get into the lungs,” Losito said. “So, the last place you want to exhaust any grease-laden vapour is into an occupied space.” Well, duh!
MacDonalds pays the city about $45,000 in annual rents. If any of the parking attendants develop serious lung ailments from the relentless exposure to toxins, this rent will seem like chump change compared to the comp liability. Beyond that, current and former parking attendants might want to explore a lawsuit against the architect of this bizarre air transfer system. My well-worn copy of “Architecture for Dummies” says that you never run vents into enclosed spaces, let alone vents that carry the grease from the world’s biggest purveyer of hamburgers and fries. McDonalds earns a dubious twofer: slowly killing their customers with (mostly) unhealthy food and slowly killing the poor parking attendants with the resulting grease. Bon appetit!