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.