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Hazardous Waste Management Technician Job Description, Career as a Hazardous Waste Management Technician, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Varies—see profile

Salary: Median—$15.90 per hour

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Industrial societies generate a tremendous amount of hazardous waste material every day. For many years this waste was simply buried in the ground or dumped at sea. In time it became clear that careless disposal of hazardous waste harmed the environment and caused health problems. Scientists and engineers are working to find better ways to remove old waste from the environment and to dispose of new waste as it is produced.

There are two types of hazardous, or toxic, waste: chemical waste and nuclear waste. Chemical waste consists of either excess chemicals that have no further use or by-products created during the manufacture of synthetic chemicals. Nuclear waste is usually the remains of nuclear fuel used in power plants or for medical or defense purposes.

Hazardous waste management technicians are responsible for disposing of these toxic waste materials in a manner that will not harm human health and the environment. These technicians often work for consulting engineering firms specializing in waste management or for waste disposal contractors. Government agencies or chemical companies hire the consulting firms or waste contractors to clean up hazardous waste sites.

The government has approved more than two dozen methods for disposal of toxic waste. Many of these are expensive and require skill and careful organization. Technicians usually work in teams supervised by senior technicians or engineers. Sometimes they remove chemicals from a dump site and transfer them to processing centers or to safe disposal areas. They may also take samples of water and soil at the site to test their quality. When waste has been buried, it must be dug or pumped out. Technicians use boring rigs, pumps, and toxicity test monitors. Technicians may also spend some of their time in laboratories running tests and interpreting data.

Education and Training Requirements

Waste management companies generally require applicants to have a high school education. Some background in chemistry and math is desirable. Hazardous waste management technicians learn many of the required testing and disposal techniques while on the job. Waste disposal firms and government agencies may also provide training courses. Because improved methods of disposal are constantly being developed, technicians may continue their training during their careers. The ability to follow safety regulations is important.

A hazardous waste management technician disposes of toxic waste materials using one of 26 government-approved methods. (© William Whitehurst/Corbis.)

Getting the Job

Candidates can apply directly to hazardous waste consulting engineering firms and waste disposal contractors. It is also possible to contact the state employment office or one of the government agencies involved in waste management. Also check help wanted ads for openings.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Experienced hazardous waste management technicians can become team supervisors or project directors. They can also become independent consultants and sell their services to the government or to waste disposal companies.

The processing and disposal of hazardous waste is expected to be a long-term growth field, and skilled technicians will be in great demand through the year 2012. Opportunities in this field will be the result of recent environmental legislation.

Working Conditions

Working conditions are sometimes damgerous to workers' health, because these workers handle highly toxic substances. To cut down on risks, workers wear protective clothing ranging from gloves to fully self-contained suits, depending on the level of toxicity at the site. Monitoring equipment lets workers know whether they have been exposed to a high level of toxins. Technicians may work indoors, outdoors, or both. Many technicians travel between sites for inspections, but they may also need to spend time in laboratories performing tests.

Where to Go for More Information

Environmental Technology Council
734 Fifteenth St. NW, Ste. 720
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 783-0870

Dangerous Goods Advisory Council
1100 H St., NW, Ste. 740
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 289-4550

Earnings and Benefits

The average hourly wage for technicians is about $15.90, and the median yearly salary is $33,080. Those employed by industry, government, or consulting firms receive paid vacations, paid holidays, and health and life insurance.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesAgribusiness, Environment, and Natural Resources