Hazardous Waste Management Specialists
There are about 45,900 hazardous materials removal workers (including specialists) employed in the United States. Hazardous waste management specialists work for many types of employers. Federal, state, and local government agencies hire hazardous waste management specialists for a variety of roles. On the local level, a hazardous waste management specialist may work within the public health, wastewater treatment, or municipal solid waste department, enforcing local regulations and overseeing disposal of hazardous waste. Hazardous waste management specialists employed by the federal government generally have a regulatory role; they oversee the cleanup of past contamination and ensure subsequent contaminations don't occur by monitoring those who generate waste. Hazardous waste professionals in government tend to have health and safety backgrounds. In the private sector, some specialists work for several companies as independent consultants. Other specialists are employed by citizen groups and environmental organizations to provide expertise on environmental and safety hazards that may not warrant Superfund attention but still concern citizens who may be affected by them.
Employers in this field prefer hazardous waste management applicants with hands-on experience. Volunteering for a support position in the industry is one good way to acquire this experience and gauge the field to find a suitable niche. Internships are available through local nonprofit groups and the EPA, among other organizations. A good way to start is by working as a technician intern—helping to run tests, prepare samples, and compile data. Internships may pay minimal salaries, but they are a good way to gain exposure to the field and learn useful skills. Recent graduates and working professionals find jobs through trade association advertisements and on the Internet. Openings with federal government agencies can be found on the Web page of the Office of Personnel Management (https://www.usajobs.gov).
Those who are still in school can start building a background now by attending local public meetings concerning hazardous waste. Read your local newspaper or visit the Web site of your city hall or county government to find out what the local issues are and learn about upcoming events. Citizen action groups that advocate environmental awareness are another good place to learn what the issues are in your area and find volunteer opportunities. You can also learn more about the field by visiting the Web sites of professional associations such as the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council.
To advance, hazardous waste management specialists need to be proficient in several aspects of hazardous waste management and able to handle an entire hazardous waste site or group of similar sites. This involves supervising technicians and support personnel, and collaborating with other specialists, engineers, and laboratory chemists, as well as being the party responsible for reporting to regulatory agencies. Other specialists may find positions in public relations fields or higher management levels. Still others may seek further formal education and advance upon attainment of advanced degrees. The field of hazardous waste management is diverse, and after specialists have a few years of work experience, the range of specialties available will become more evident.
Tips for Entry
Learn more about the industry by reading:
- Waste Management World: http://www.waste-management-world.com
- The Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association: https://www.awma.org/journal
- Groundwater Monitoring & Remediation: https://www.ngwa.org/publications-and-news/journals/groundwater-monitoring-remediation
- Journal of Environmental Quality: https://acsess.onlinelibrary.wiley.com
- Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/bher20/current#.Ufbm2Kwc0f40
Visit the Air and Waste Management Association's Career Center, https://www.awma.org/careers, for job listings.
Land an entry-level job or internship at the Environmental Protection Agency to learn about the field and make industry contacts.
Conduct information interviews with hazardous waste management specialists and ask them for advice on preparing for and entering the field.