Hazardous Materials Removal Career Information
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Significant Points· Working conditions can be difficult, and the use
of protective clothing is often required.
· Formal education beyond high school is not required, but a training program leading to a Federal license is mandatory.
· Excellent job opportunities are expected.
Nature of the WorkIncreased public awareness
and Federal and State regulations are resulting in the removal of hazardous
materials from buildings, facilities, and the environment to prevent further
contamination of natural resources and to promote public health and safety.
Hazardous-materials removal workers identify, remove, package, transport, and
dispose of various hazardous materials, including asbestos, lead, and radioactive
and nuclear materials. The removal
of hazardous materials, or "hazmats," from public places and the environment
also is called abatement, remediation, and decontamination.
Hazardous-materials removal workers use a variety of tools and equipment, depending on the work at hand. Equipment ranges from brooms to personal protective suits that completely isolate workers from the hazardous material. Depending on the threat of contamination, equipment required can include disposable or reusable coveralls, gloves, hard hats, shoe covers, safety glasses or goggles, chemical-resistant clothing, face shields, and hearing protection. Most workers also are required to wear respirators while working to protect them from airborne particles. These respirators range from simple versions that cover only the mouth and nose to self-contained suits with their own air supply.
Asbestos is a material used in the past for fireproofing roofing and flooring, for heat insulation, and for a variety of other uses. While materials containing asbestos rarely are used in buildings anymore, there still are structures containing the material. When embedded in materials, asbestos is fairly harmless; when airborne, however, asbestos can cause several lung diseases, including lung cancer and asbestosis.
Lead was a common building component found in paint and plumbing fixtures and pipes until the late 1970's. Because lead is easily absorbed into the bloodstream, it can travel to vital organs and build up there. The health risks associated with lead poisoning include fatigue, loss of appetite, miscarriage, and learning disabilities and decreased IQ in children. Due to these risks, it has become necessary to remove lead-based products and asbestos from buildings and structures.
Asbestos-abatement and lead-abatement workers remove these and other materials from buildings scheduled to be renovated or demolished. They use a variety of hand and power tools, such as vacuums and scrapers, to remove asbestos and lead from surfaces. The vacuums used by asbestos-abatement workers have special, highly efficient filters designed to trap the asbestos, which is later disposed of or stored. During the abatement, special monitors for asbestos and lead content sample the air to protect the workers; lead-abatement workers also wear a personal air monitor that indicates how much lead the worker has been exposed to. Workers also use monitoring devices to identify the asbestos, lead, and other materials that need to be removed from the surfaces of walls and structures.
A typical residential lead-abatement project involves using a chemical to strip the lead-based paint from the walls of the home. Lead-abatement workers apply the compound with a putty knife and allow it to dry. Then, they scrape the hazardous material into an impregnable container for transport and storage. They also use sandblasters and high-pressure water sprayers to remove lead from large structures.
Radioactive materials are classified as either high- or low-level wastes. High-level wastes primarily are nuclear-reactor fuels used to produce electricity. Low-level wastes include any radioactively contaminated protective clothing, tools, filters, medical equipment, and other items. Decontamination technicians perform duties similar to janitors and cleaners. They use brooms, mops, and other tools to clean exposed areas and remove exposed items for decontamination or disposal. With experience, these workers can advance to radiation-protection technician jobs and use radiation survey meters to locate and evaluate materials, operate high-pressure cleaning equipment for decontamination, and package radioactive materials for transportation or disposal.
Decommissioning and decontamination (D&D) workers remove and treat radioactive materials generated by nuclear facilities and power plants. They use a variety of handtools to break down contaminated items such as "gloveboxes," which are used to process radioactive materials. At decommissioning sites, the workers clean and decontaminate the facility, as well as remove any radioactive or contaminated materials.
Treatment, storage, and disposal (TSD) workers transport and prepare materials for treatment or disposal. To ensure proper treatment of materials, laws require workers in this field to be able to verify shipping manifests. At incinerator facilities, these workers transport materials from the customer or service center to the incinerator. At landfills, they follow a strict procedure for the processing and storage of hazardous materials. They organize and track the location of items in the fill and may help change the state of a material from liquid to solid in preparation for its storage. These workers typically operate heavy machinery such as forklifts, earthmoving machinery, and large trucks and rigs.
Hazardous-materials removal workers also may be required to construct scaffolding or erect containment areas prior to the abatement or decontamination. Government regulation, in most cases, dictates that hazardous-materials removal workers are closely supervised on the worksite. The standard usually is 1 supervisor to every 10 workers. The work is very structured, planned out sometimes years in advance, and team-oriented. There is a great deal of cooperation among supervisors and coworkers. Due to the nature of the materials being removed, work areas are restricted to licensed hazardous-materials removal workers, thus minimizing exposure to the public.
Working ConditionsHazardous-materials removal
workers face different working conditions depending on their area of expertise.
Although many work a standard 40-hour week, overtime and shiftwork is not uncommon,
especially in asbestos and lead abatement. Asbestos- and lead-abatement workers tend to work primarily
in buildings and other structures, such as office buildings and schools. Because
they are under pressure to complete their work within certain deadlines, workers
may experience fatigue. Completing projects frequently requires night and weekend
work, because hazardous-materials removal workers often work around the schedules
of others. Treatment, storage, and disposal workers are employed primarily at
facilities such as landfills, incinerators, boilers, and industrial furnaces.
These facilities often are located in remote areas due to the kinds of work
being done. As a result, workers employed by treatment, storage, or disposal
facilities may commute long distances to work.
Decommissioning and decontamination workers, decontamination technicians, and radiation protection technicians work at nuclear facilities and electrical power plants. These sites, like treatment, storage, and disposal facilities, often are far from urban areas. Workers, who often perform jobs in cramped conditions, may need to use sharp tools to dismantle contaminated objects. A hazardous-materials removal worker must have great self-control and a level head to cope with the daily stress associated with working with hazardous materials.
Hazardous-materials removal employees work in a highly structured environment to minimize danger. Each phase of an operation is planned in advance, and workers are trained to deal with safety breaches and hazardous situations. Crews and supervisors take every precaution to ensure that the worksite is safe. Hazardous-materials removal workers, whether working in asbestos and lead abatement or in radioactive decontamination, must stand, stoop, and kneel for long periods. Some hazardous-materials removal workers must wear fully enclosed personal protective suits for several hours at a time; these suits may be hot and uncomfortable and cause some individuals to experience claustrophobia.
Hazardous-materials removal workers may be required to travel outside their normal working area in order to respond to emergency situations. These emergency cleanups sometimes take several days or weeks to complete, and workers usually are away from home for the duration of the project.
EmploymentHazardous-materials removal workers held about 37,000 jobs in 2009. Nearly half were employed by special trade contractors, primarily in asbestos and lead abatement. Almost a quarter worked in water supply and sanitary services. A small number worked in electric services at nuclear and electric plants as decommissioning and decontamination workers and radiation safety and decontamination technicians.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.Formal education beyond
a high school diploma is not required to become a hazardous materials removal
worker. However, workers must be
able to perform basic mathematical conversions and calculations, manipulating
readings for consideration during the abatement. To perform the job duties,
workers also should have good physical strength and manual dexterity.
Because of the nature of the work to be done and the time constraints sometimes involved, employers prefer people who are dependable, prompt, and detail-oriented. Because much of the work is done in buildings, a background in construction is helpful.
Federal regulations require a license to work as a hazardous-materials removal worker. Most employers provide technical training on the job, but a formal 32- to 40-hour training program must be completed to be licensed to work as an asbestos- and lead-abatement worker or a treatment, storage, and disposal worker. The program covers health hazards, personal protective equipment and clothing, site safety, hazard recognition and identification, and decontamination. In some cases, workers will discover one hazardous material while abating another. If the workers are not licensed to work with the newly discovered material, they cannot continue to work. Many experienced workers opt to take courses in additional disciplines to avoid this situation. Some employers prefer to hire workers licensed in multiple disciplines.
For decommissioning and decontamination workers employed at nuclear facilities, training is more extensive. In addition to the standard 40-hour training course in asbestos, lead, and hazardous waste, workers must take courses on regulations governing nuclear materials and radiation safety. These courses add up to approximately 3 months of training, although most are not taken consecutively. Many agencies, organizations, and companies throughout the country provide training programs that are approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, and other regulatory bodies. Workers in all fields are required to take refresher courses every year to maintain their license.
Job OutlookJob opportunities
are expected to be excellent for hazardous-materials removal workers, largely
due to the numerous openings arising each year as experienced workers leave
the occupation. In addition, many potential workers may prefer work that is less
strenuous and has more comfortable working conditions. Well-trained workers
will have especially favorable opportunities.
The overall employment in this occupation is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations through the year 2010. Employment of the largest group of workers, asbestos- and lead-abatement workers, is expected to grow as fast as other occupations in special trade contractors, but opportunities will be best in lead abatement. Compared with other construction trades occupations, employment of lead-abatement workers is much less affected by slowdowns in the economy.
Employment of decontamination technicians, radiation safety technicians, and decommissioning and decontamination workers is expected to grow in response to increased pressure for safer and cleaner nuclear and electric generator facilities. In addition, the number of closed facilities that need decommissioning may continue to grow due to Federal legislation. These workers also are less affected by fluctuations in the economy because the facilities they work in must operate regardless of the state of the economy.
Opportunities will be best in the private sector as more State and local governments contract out hazardous-materials removal work to private companies.
EarningsMedian hourly earnings of hazardous materials removal workers were $16.71 in 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.34 and $18.56 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.33 per hour, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $24.01 per hour. The median hourly earnings in the largest industries employing hazardous materials removal workers in 2009 are shown below.
Miscellaneous special trade contractors $16.78
Sanitary services 15.30
According to the limited data available, treatment, storage, and disposal workers usually earn slightly more than asbestos- and lead-abatement workers or decontamination technicians. Decontamination and decommissioning workers and radiation protection technicians, though constituting the smallest group, tend to earn the highest wages.
and lead-abatement workers share skills with other construction trades workers, including brickmasons, blockmasons, and
stonemasons; cement masons, concrete finishers, segmental pavers, and terrazzo
workers; insulation workers; and sheet metal workers. Treatment, storage,
and disposal workers, decommissioning and decontamination workers, and decontamination
and radiation safety technicians work closely with plant and system operators,
such as power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers and water and wastewater
treatment plant operators.
For more information on hazardous materials removal workers that work in the construction industry, including information on training, contact:
Sources of Additional Information
For more information on hazardous materials removal workers that work in the construction industry, including information on training, contact: