Bowness residents leave homes due to air quality

Three families in Calgary's Bowness neighbourhood have been ordered to vacate their homes by Alberta Health Services.

Three families in Calgary's Bowness neighbourhood have been told they should vacate their homes by Alberta Health Services.

A number of families on Bow Crescent have been forced from their homes after a gas leak at a Gas Plus station last year raised air quality concerns. ((CBC))

The families, all on Bow Crescent, received the notices after air testing revealed high levels of benzine and other chemicals.

The street has undergone several environmental tests after thousands of litres of gasoline seeped into the ground from a nearby Gas Plus station in April.

Maureen Whitlock and her husband received a notice after tests on the air inside their home showed high levels of the hydrocarbon benzine, at 20 times what's considered a safe level. 

"They said that we should just get out now and not come back to the house," said Whitlock, who has been staying at a local hotel until health officials give the all clear to the air quality in their house.

"I'm angry, of course," said Whitlock. "We're in our mid-60s. We bought this home for our retirement, so we could sell it in three or four years. Now where's the value of it?"

But across the street from the Whitlock home, Monica Skruwka said her family got an OK from Alberta Environment when their home's air was tested.

Still, she is not convinced that her family is out of the woods.

"Just today, I'm smelling this strange sweet odour in my house and I'm wondering if it's gas, I have no explanation for it," Skruwka said Monday. "And Alberta Health has told me they likely won't do any more testing on my house, because I've had one test result that's OK."

Health concerns

Skruwka said 48-hour air quality testing was conducted a number of weeks ago, but said she doubts the validity of the testing, claiming that the man who picked up the canister used for the testing was a relative of the owner of the Gas Plus.

"I feel there's a conflict of interest there. My testing is being done and carried away by somebody who is related to the gas station owner," she said.

Gas Plus has not responded to CBC's requests for an interview.

Skruwka said her normally healthy family has started to develop symptoms including her 10-year-old daughter who has been placed on an inhaler recently for respiratory problems.

"Why would she suddenly develop this now? She's 10 years old. There's no family history, so I'm concerned about our health," she said.

Dr. Richard Musto, Calgary's medical officer of health said there are a number of symptoms to look out for. These include irritation to the eyes and nose, and if exposure is prolonged, there is more likelihood of headaches and difficulty with sleeping.