There are about 45,900 hazardous materials removal workers (including technicians) employed in the United States. Hazardous waste management technicians are employed by chemical companies and other producers of hazardous waste, waste disposal companies and waste disposal consulting engineering firms, environmental consulting firms, government agencies, and other organizations. The largest number of jobs is in the private sector.
Private industry jobs can be found within large companies. Such companies generate waste and are likely to have their own in-house staff of environmentalists. This is especially true as regulations keep getting more and more complex. Medium-sized companies may have smaller departments. Smaller companies may have a professional or two on staff, or hire outside consultants.
Consulting companies are another good source of employment opportunities for hazardous waste management technicians. Some consulting companies advise companies on how to handle a hazardous waste problem. Others also design a plan and provide the manpower to carry it out. Some have their own testing and laboratory services. There are about 100 very large environmental consulting firms in the United States.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is just one federal government agency that employs technicians. The U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service employ technicians and field personnel, while the EPA uses more scientists and other professionals. There also is a trend toward increased work in hazardous waste management at the local level, by states, counties, and municipalities. Jobs there include technicians at municipal water plants and other public facilities.
A growing part of the hazardous waste management field is the handling and disposal of medical wastes. Hospitals, labs, health care facilities, and pharmaceutical companies may have staff personnel to help them take care of their medical wastes, or, they may hire consultants to do the job. Smaller generators of hazardous wastes include university research facilities and even households. Another source of hazardous waste is inactive mines: Hazardous minerals can leak into nearby surface and groundwater, creating potential health hazards.
Most 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). Hazardous waste management technicians can also find job listings on employment Web sites such as Indeed (http://www.indeed.com).
Technicians typically don't go on to earn professional degrees. However, there are several other advancement options that may be of interest to technicians. They may, for example, opt to specialize in the disposal of hazardous waste. These people conduct studies on hazardous waste management projects and provide information on treatment and containment of hazardous waste. At the government level, they help to develop hazardous waste rules and regulations.
Technicians can also advance to the position of incident commander. An incident commander is the individual who's in charge of and has ultimate responsibility for a hazardous waste site. They supervise workers and meet with state and federal regulatory authorities as necessary.
Obtaining more education and training can help the technician earn more money and take on more responsibility. In some companies, additional education will also earn the technician a higher title (such as hazardous waste management specialist). Technicians who complete advanced degrees and have many years of experience can become consultants.
Some environmental professionals work in community relations or public affairs, helping to inform the public about what a company is doing with its wastes. The government also employs such professionals to help spread information about regulations and cleanup efforts.
Learn more about the industry by reading:
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Join the Air & Waste Management Association to access networking opportunities, publications, and other resources.