Environmental science and protection technicians monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution and contamination, including those affecting public health.

Duties

Environmental science and protection technicians typically do the following:

  • Inspect establishments, including public places and businesses, to ensure that there are no environmental, health, or safety hazards
  • Set up and maintain equipment used to monitor pollution levels, such as remote sensors that measure emissions from smokestacks
  • Collect samples of air, soil, water, and other materials for laboratory analysis
  • Clearly label, track, and ensure the integrity of samples being transported to the laboratory
  • Use equipment, such as microscopes, to evaluate and analyze samples for the presence of pollutants or other contaminants
  • Prepare charts and reports that summarize test results
  • Discuss test results and analyses with clients
  • Verify compliance with regulations that help prevent pollution

Many environmental science and protection technicians work under the supervision of environmental scientists and specialists, who direct the technicians’ work and evaluate their results. In addition, technicians often work on teams with scientists, engineers, and technicians in other fields to solve complex problems related to environmental degradation and public health. For example, they may work on teams with geoscientists and hydrologists to manage the cleanup of contaminated soils and ground water around an abandoned bomb-manufacturing site.

Most environmental science and protection technicians work for consulting firms, state or local governments, or testing laboratories.

In consulting firms, environmental science and protection technicians help clients monitor and manage the environment and comply with regulations. For example, they help businesses develop cleanup plans for contaminated sites, and they recommend ways to reduce, control, or eliminate pollution. Also, environmental science and protection technicians conduct feasibility studies for, and monitor the environmental impact of, new construction projects.

In state and local governments, environmental science and protection technicians inspect businesses and public places, and investigate complaints related to air quality, water quality, and food safety. They may be involved with the enforcement of environmental regulations. They also may help protect the environment and people’s health by performing environmental impact studies of new construction. Or they may evaluate the environmental health of sites that may contaminate the environment, such as abandoned industrial sites.

In testing laboratories, environmental science and protection technicians collect and track samples, and perform tests that are often similar to those carried out by chemical technicians, biological technicians, or microbiologists. However, in contrast to the work done by these science workers, that done by environmental science and protection technicians focuses on topics that are directly related to the environment and how it affects human health.

Environmental science and protection technicians typically specialize either in laboratory testing or in fieldwork and sample collection. However, it is common for laboratory technicians to occasionally collect samples from the field and for fieldworkers to do some work in a laboratory.

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Work Environment

Environmental science and protection technicians held about 34,800 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of environmental science and protection technicians were as follows:

Management, scientific, and technical consulting services                          23%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 21
Testing laboratories 12
State government, excluding education and hospitals 7
Engineering services 5

Environmental science and protection technicians work in laboratories, offices, and the field. Fieldwork offers a variety of settings. For example, technicians may investigate an abandoned manufacturing plant, or work outdoors to test the water quality of lakes and rivers. They may work near streams and rivers, monitoring the levels of pollution caused by runoff from cities and landfills, or they may have to use the crawl spaces under a house in order to neutralize natural health risks such as radon. While working outdoors, they may be exposed to adverse weather conditions.

In the field, environmental science and protection technicians spend most of their time on their feet, which can be physically demanding. They also may need to carry and set up testing equipment, which can involve some heavy lifting and frequent bending and crouching. Fieldwork may be seasonal, depending on the location, since low temperatures in the winter could inhibit taking samples from water sources or soil.

Depending on the type of work and fieldwork they do, technicians may need to wear protective gear such as hardhats, masks, and coveralls to protect them from hazards.

Work Schedules

Environmental science and protection technicians typically work full time. Working in the field exposes them to all types of weather. Also, technicians may need to travel to meet with clients or to perform fieldwork, either of which may require technicians to work additional or irregular hours.

Education and Training

Environmental science and protection technicians typically need an associate’s degree or 2 years of postsecondary education, although some positions require a bachelor’s degree.

Education

Environmental science and protection technicians typically need an associate’s degree in environmental science, environmental health, or public health, or a related degree. Because of the wide range of tasks, environments, and industries in which these technicians work, there are jobs that do not require postsecondary education and others that require a bachelor’s degree.

A background in natural sciences is important for environmental science and protection technicians. Students should take courses in chemistry, biology, geology, and physics. Coursework in math, statistics, and computer science also is useful, because technicians routinely do data analysis and modeling.

Many technical and community colleges offer programs in environmental studies or a related technology, such as remote sensing or geographic information systems (GISs). While in college, students should include coursework that provides laboratory experience.

Associate’s degree programs at community colleges often are designed to allow students to easily transfer to bachelor’s degree programs at public colleges and universities.

Training

Technicians whose jobs involve handling hazardous waste typically need to complete training in accordance with Occupational Safety & Health Administration(OSHA) standards. The length of training depends on the type of hazardous material that workers handle. The training covers health hazards, personal protective equipment and clothing, site safety, recognizing and identifying hazards, and decontamination.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In some states, environmental science and protection technicians can benefit from obtaining certification to conduct certain types of environmental and health inspections. For example, certification for technicians who test buildings for radon is offered through the National Radon Safety Board (NRSB).

The Registered Environmental Health Specialist/Registered Sanitarian (REHS/RS) credential is offered through the National Environmental Health Association(NEHA).

Personality and Interests

Environmental science and protection technicians typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as an environmental science and protection technician, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Environmental science and protection technicians should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Environmental science and protection technicians must be able to carry out a wide range of laboratory and field tests, and their results must be accurate and precise.

Communication skills. Environmental science and protection technicians must have good listening and writing skills, because they must follow precise directions for sample collection and communicate their results effectively in their written reports. They also may need to discuss their results with colleagues and clients.

Critical-thinking skills. Environmental science and protection technicians reach their conclusions through sound reasoning and judgment. They have to be able to determine the best way to address environmental hazards.

Interpersonal skills. Environmental science and protection technicians need to be able to work well and collaborate with others, because they often work with scientists and other technicians.

Pay

The median annual wage for environmental science and protection technicians was $46,540 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,040, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,710.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for environmental science and protection technicians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals $50,230
Engineering services 46,940
State government, excluding education and hospitals 46,510
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services                        44,240
Testing laboratories 39,660

Environmental science and protection technicians typically work full time. Working in the field exposes them to all types of weather. Also, technicians may need to travel to meet with clients or to perform fieldwork, either of which may require technicians to work additional or irregular hours.

Job Outlook

Employment of environmental science and protection technicians is projected to grow 9 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. Heightened public interest in issues involving the environment, such as fracking, as well as the increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth, is expected to spur demand for environmental science and protection technicians.

Most employment growth for environmental science and protection technicians is projected to be in the industry of management, scientific, and technical consulting services. More businesses and governments are expected to use these firms in the future to help them monitor and manage the environment and comply with regulations.

For More Information

For more information about environmental health technicians and related occupations, visit

National Environmental Health Association

For more information about training, visit

UCAR

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

For more information specific to radon technicians, visit

National Radon Safety Board

 

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