Environmental science and protection technicians monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution and contamination, including those affecting 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
  • Perform scientific tests to identify and measure levels of pollutants in samples
  • Prepare charts and reports that summarize test results
  • Discuss test results and analyses with clients

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, they 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 state or local governments, testing laboratories, or consulting firms.

In state and local governments, environmental science and protection technicians spend a lot of time inspecting businesses and public places, and investigating complaints related to air quality, water quality, and food safety. Sometimes they may be involved with enforcement of environmental regulations. They may protect the environment and people’s health by performing environmental impact studies of new construction or by evaluating the environmental health of sites that may contaminate the environment, such as abandoned industrial sites.

Environmental science and protection technicians work in testing laboratories collecting and tracking samples, and performing tests that are often similar to what is done by chemical technicians, biological technicians, or microbiologists. However, the work done by environmental science and protection technicians focuses on topics that are directly related to the environment and how it affects human health.

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.

Environmental science and protection technicians typically specialize in either 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 32,800 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most environmental science and protection technicians in 2012 were as follows:  

Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 23%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 19
Testing laboratories 13
State government, excluding education and hospitals 8
Engineering services 7

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

Environmental science and protection technicians work in laboratories, offices, and the field. Fieldwork offers a variety of settings. For example, a technician may investigate an abandoned manufacturing plant, or work outdoors testing the water quality of lakes and rivers. They may work around 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 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.

Work Schedules

Environmental science and protection technicians typically work full time. In some cold climates, the ground may freeze, thus limiting the ability to take samples. This may cause some workers to work seasonally. They may also need to travel to meet with clients or to perform fieldwork. This may occasionally require technicians to work long or irregular hours.

Education and Training

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

Education

Environmental science and protection technicians typically need an associate’s degree in environmental science, environmental health, 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 mathematics, statistics, and computer science also is useful because technicians routinely do data analysis and modeling.

Many schools offer internships and cooperative-education programs, which help students gain valuable experience while attending school. Internships and cooperative-education experience can enhance the students’ employment prospects.

Many technical and community colleges offer programs in environmental studies or a related technology, such as remote sensing or geographic information systems (GIS). Associate’s degree programs at community colleges traditionally are designed to provide easy transfer to bachelor’s degree programs at colleges and universities.

Important 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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In some states, environmental science and protection technicians need a license to do certain types of environmental and health inspections. For example, some states require licensing for technicians who test buildings for radon. Licensure requirements vary by state but typically include minimum levels of education and experience and a passing score on an exam.

Pay

The median annual wage for environmental science and protection technicians was $41,240 in May 2012. 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 $26,330, and the top 10 percent earned more than $68,620.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for environmental science and protection technicians in the top five industries employing these technicians were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals $44,720
State government, excluding education and hospitals 41,390
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 40,330
Engineering services 39,040
Testing laboratories 36,680

Environmental science and protection technicians typically work full time. In some cold climates the ground may freeze, thus limiting the ability to take samples. This may cause some workers to work seasonally. They may also need to travel to meet with clients or to perform fieldwork. This may occasionally require technicians to work many or irregular hours.

Job Outlook

Employment of environmental science and protection technicians is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Heightened public interest in the hazards facing the environment, as well as the increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth, are expected to spur demand for environmental science and protection technicians.

Most employment growth for environmental science and protection technicians is projected to be in consulting firms. 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.

Job Prospects

Environmental science and protection technicians should have good opportunities for employment. In addition to openings due to growth, many job openings are expected to be created by those who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons. Job candidates with an associate’s degree and laboratory experience should have the best opportunities.

For More Information

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

National Environmental Health Association

For more information specific to radon technicians, visit

National Radon Safety Board

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