Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment. They identify problems and find solutions that minimize hazards to the health of the environment and the population. Show Details
Environmental scientists and specialists typically do the following:
Environmental scientists and specialists analyze environmental problems and develop solutions. For example, many environmental scientists and specialists work to reclaim lands and waters that have been contaminated by pollution. Others assess the risks new construction projects pose to the environment and make recommendations to governments and businesses on how to minimize the environmental impact of these projects. They also identify ways that human behavior can be changed to avoid problems such as the depletion of the ozone layer.
The federal government and many state and local governments have regulations to ensure that there is clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, and no hazardous materials in the soil. The regulations also place limits on development, particularly near sensitive parts of the ecosystem, such as wetlands. Many environmental scientists and specialists work for the government to ensure that these regulations are followed. Other environmental scientists work for consulting firms that help companies comply with regulations and policies.
Some environmental scientists and specialists focus on environmental regulations that are designed to protect people’s health, while others focus on regulations designed to minimize society’s impact on the ecosystem. The following are examples of types of specialists:
Environmental health specialists study how environmental factors impact human health. They investigate potential health risks, such as unsafe drinking water, disease, and food safety. They also educate the public about potential health risks present in the environment.
Environmental protection specialists monitor the effect human activity has on the environment. They investigate sources of pollution and develop prevention, control, and remediation plans.
Other environmental scientists do work and receive training that is similar to that of other physical or life scientists, but they focus on environmental issues. Environmental chemists are an example.
Environmental chemists study the effects that various chemicals have on ecosystems. For example, they look at how acids affect plants, animals, and people. Some areas in which they work include waste management and the remediation of contaminated soils, water, and air.
Many people with backgrounds in environmental science become professors and teachers. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.
Hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers identify and dispose of asbestos, radioactive and nuclear waste, arsenic, lead, and other hazardous materials. They also clean up materials that are flammable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic. Show Details
Hazmat removal workers typically do the following:
Hazmat removal workers clean up materials that are harmful to people and the environment. The work they do depends on the substances they are cleaning. Removing lead and asbestos is different from cleaning up radiation contamination and toxic spills. Differences also can relate to why these workers have been called in to clean a site. For example, cleaning up a fuel spill from a train derailment is more urgent than removing lead paint from a bridge.
The following are types of hazmat removal workers:
Asbestos abatement workers and lead abatement workers remove asbestos and lead from buildings that are going to be fixed up or taken down. Most of this work is in older buildings that were originally built with asbestos insulation and lead-based paints—both of which are now banned from being used in newer buildings and must be removed from older ones.
Until the 1970s, asbestos was often used in buildings for fireproofing, insulation, and other uses. However, asbestos particles can cause deadly lung diseases. Similarly, until the 1970s, lead was commonly used in paint, pipes, and plumbing fixtures. Inhaling lead dust or ingesting chips of lead-based paint can cause serious health problems, though, especially in children.
Lead abatement workers use chemicals and may need to know how to operate sandblasters, high-pressure water sprayers, and other common tools.
Decommissioning and decontamination workers remove and treat radioactive materials generated by nuclear facilities and powerplants. They break down contaminated items such as “gloveboxes,” which are used to process radioactive materials. When a facility is being closed or decommissioned (taken out of service), these workers clean the facility and decontaminate it from radioactive materials.
Decontamination technicians do tasks similar to those of janitors and cleaners, but the items and areas they clean are radioactive. Some of these jobs are now being done by robots controlled by people away from the contamination site. Increasingly, many of these remote devices automatically monitor and survey floors and walls for contamination.
Emergency and disaster response workers must work quickly to clean up hazardous materials after train and trucking accidents. Immediate, thorough cleanups help to control and prevent more damage to accident or disaster sites.
Radiation-protection technicians use radiation survey meters and other remote devices to locate and assess the hazard associated with radiated materials, operate high-pressure cleaning equipment for decontamination, and package radioactive materials for moving or disposing.
Treatment, storage, and disposal workers transport and prepare materials for treatment, storage, or disposal. To ensure proper treatment of materials, workers must follow laws enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). At incinerator facilities, treatment, storage, and disposal workers move materials from the customer or service center to the incinerator. At landfills, they organize and track the location of items in the landfill and may help change the state of a material from liquid to solid to prepare it to be stored. These workers typically operate heavy machinery, such as forklifts, earthmoving machinery, and large trucks and rigs.
Mold remediation makes up a small segment of hazardous materials removal work. Although mold is present in almost all structures and is not usually defined as a hazardous material, some mold—especially the types that cause allergic reactions—can infest a building to such a degree that extensive efforts must be taken to remove it safely.