Oregon Department of Environmental Quality officials are reminding locals that anyone working with asbestos must be licensed, after Medford resident Thomas Ray Moroni was caught illegally removing the harmful substance from an Ashland home.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality officials are reminding locals that anyone working with asbestos must be licensed, after Medford resident Thomas Ray Moroni was caught illegally removing the harmful substance from an Ashland home.

The DEQ fined the general contractor $8,400 after discovering he had done an asbestos abatement project in January on an old house at 111 Nursery St. without a license.

"We certainly want to alert contractors to be mindful that they may be working with asbestos material," said DEQ air quality inspector Steve Croucher, who is based in Medford. "There are a lot of requirements for dealing with asbestos, because it's so dangerous."

Anyone working on projects that involve asbestos must have a state license that certifies they are qualified to handle, remove and dispose of the mineral fiber safely.

Asbestos fibers are a public heath hazard and have been proven to cause lung cancer, cancer on internal tissue and respiratory disease, according to the DEQ. There is no safe level of exposure to the toxic mineral.

Asbestos is commonly found in older homes and buildings, and must be removed before large-scale renovations or rebuilding.

Moroni, who did not return calls seeking comment, removed about 2,000 square feet of cement asbestos board siding from the Nursery Street house, according to the DEQ.

Croucher found that Moroni had crushed and pulverized the asbestos siding, likely releasing the harmful fibers into the air. The contractor also left some of the asbestos waste materials unpackaged and on the ground outside the house, the DEQ said.

Eventually, a licensed asbestos abatement contractor disposed of the material properly.

Before hiring a contractor, homeowners should check to see whether their property has asbestos and should ensure that workers are licensed to clean up the material, Croucher said.

"Everybody on the project needs to be very diligent and make sure that the site's been checked for asbestos," he said. "As a homeowner, you can't just hire a contractor and expect them to do everything responsibly. It's the homeowner's responsibility to double-check."

For information on asbestos licensing or cleanup, call Croucher at 541-776-6107.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.