An asbestos waste bag sitting near the doorstep of Arthur Moore's half-duplex on 90 Avenue in Surrey. Moore did not answer the door or return the Leader's calls.

Workers exposed to silent killer at toxic teardowns

No jail time for Surrey asbestos handler who shirked safety rules

Arthur Moore sent teenagers as young as 14 to demolish houses without any protection against the asbestos that lurked inside.

The Surrey-based demolition contractor recruited at least 20 recovering addicts from the Lion Wellness Recovery House, who were required under their recovery program to seek work.

He told those who worked for him to “run” if WorkSafeBC officers showed up at a job site.

That’s just some of the evidence B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jeanne Watchuk heard before agreeing Moore poses a “significant public safety concern.”

She cited his “targeted recruitment of vulnerable workers” without providing proper safety training or equipment in a judgment handed down April 11.

“Numerous employees were repeatedly exposed to asbestos,” she ruled.

Property owners who wanted an old house gone so they could redevelop would call Moore, who claimed to take samples from the building, get them analyzed and obtain a report certifying it was asbestos-free before tearing it down – all at a fraction of the cost of competitors.

Except Moore had no qualifications as an inspector.

He did not send samples to any lab.

“The lab reports provided by Mr. Moore were forgeries on letterhead stolen from legitimate labs,” the ruling said.

He had been written up and fined for repeated workplace violations.

But Moore, described as a fringe operator with no assets to seize, ignored past orders and continued to disobey safety regulations, according to the ruling.

This time, WorkSafeBC wanted Moore jailed.

A court injunction obtained last August indefinitely barred Moore, doing business as AM Environmental, from conducting asbestos removal, demolition or drywall removal, or providing related inspections, reports or testing.

But Moore continued his house demolition business at at least 15 more sites after the injunction was served on him, court was told.

He provided an asbestos inspection report under the name Tri City Hazmat, for the removal of drywall at a home at 11104 Fuller Cres. in North Delta in September.

In October, operating as Surrey Hazmat, he certified a Richmond house asbestos-

free and safe for demolition.

WorkSafeBC asked the judge to find Moore in criminal contempt of court for violating the injunction, punishable by up to four months in jail.

Moore did not show up to dispute either the 2010 injunction or the contempt of court hearing.

Justice Watchuk ruled there was a “compelling case for incarceration” but rejected the contempt application, citing imprecise wording of the original injunction.

The post-injunction violations brought before the court were under business names other than AM Environmental, she ruled, and it was not clear enough that WorkSafeBC intended the order to also apply to Moore personally.

Moore has also operated under names including Effective Contracting, according to court records, and sometimes used aliases such as Art Miller and Robert Miller.

It’s unclear exactly how many employees worked for Moore who may face the threat of asbestos-caused lung disease and cancer decades from now.

A former partner estimated that over a four-month period last year, more than 50 employees worked under Moore.

David Cooper worked for Moore for nearly two years at 40 to 50 demolition sites and was only once given protective equipment other than gloves, he said in an affidavit.

He was never told about the hazards of asbestos.

Cooper said most of Moore’s employees he worked with were under age 18, with some as young as 14.

He was one of three ex-employees who said they were instructed to run and not cooperate if the authorities showed up.

WorkSafeBC spokesperson Donna Freeman would not say if an appeal will be filed.

“WorkSafeBC is considering its options, given the court’s decision,” she told The Leader.

A former associate of Moore’s predicts he won’t stop unless he’s jailed or demand for his services dries up.

The man, who declined to be named, said Moore charges around $3,000 on a job that should cost $20,000.

The fact he has no vehicle or driver’s licence doesn’t slow him down.

“He pays other people to drive him,” said the ex-associate.

He said Moore and a new partner have a business card under yet a new company name: Pro Scan Environmental.

Calls placed to the phone number on the card for “Art” were not answered.

A partner named “Dave” also listed on the card answered his phone once, confirmed he knew Arthur Moore, but said he was too busy to talk.

This house at 16195 80th Avenue in Surrey was behind asbestos hazard tape earlier this month after WorkSafeBC issued a stop-work order. The agency says its officers wrote orders against Tri City Environmental Corp. for failing to remove asbestos identified in a survey and failing to prevent the potential exposure of workers to asbestos. The firm, which is not associated with Arthur Moore, is ordered to submit a compliance plan to WorkSafeBC.

Tighter rules needed, asbestos industry group says

Industry insiders say dangerous operators like Arthur Moore are the equivalent of someone HIV-positive infecting hundreds of sex partners and never telling them.

Like AIDS, asbestos exposure doesn’t cause illness or death until many years later – in contrast to most workplace safety risks.

“If you don’t follow fall prevention guidelines and you fall off a roof, there’s a corpse lying on the ground,” said Don Whyte, manager of the Hazardous Materials Association, a B.C.-based industry group whose member contractors strive to responsibly handle asbestos and other toxic materials.

“In this industry, there’s no blood. The damage doesn’t show up for 20 or 30 years down the road.”

WorkSafeBC statistics show there were 53 deaths over the previous decade blamed on workplace asbestos exposure. The rate of such deaths has been increasing and asbestos now accounts for 44 per cent of B.C. work-related fatalities.

Whyte said there are “plenty” of shady operators in the Lower Mainland who break the rules and put workers at risk of eventually contracting asbestos-related lung disease or cancer.

“It boils down to the fact that if you cut corners and don’t get caught, there’s really no evidence pointing toward you,” he said.

Someone who can demolish an asbestos-laden building without incurring a real assessment or the care required during demolition can undercut legitimate operators by thousands of dollars.

“If one costs $10,000 and the other is $1,500, who are you going to choose?” Whyte asked. “It’s quite frustrating for our contractors to try to compete against the contractors that are negating the regulation.”

WorkSafeBC has already dispatched an expanded team of 10 inspectors to pursue contractors who illegally expose workers and residents to asbestos contamination.

They’ve shut down more than 25 house demolitions over asbestos handling so far in 2011.

Whyte wants to see authorities crack down even harder on violators.

“Without more rigid enforcement, we’re just going to continue to see this,” Whyte predicted.

There’s no special licensing of asbestos abatement contractors in B.C. – little more than a business card is needed to get started.

Whyte said B.C. at the very least should follow Alberta’s lead and bar new employees and supervisors from working in the industry until they’ve first taken some sort of orientation or introductory training session.

That way, he said, prospective workers could be warned that the time to run is the instant they meet a boss like Arthur Moore.