Becoming an Environmental Site Assessor: Salary & Job Description

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Learn about an environmental site assessor's job description, salary, and training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of an environmental site assessment career.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Environmental Site Assessor

Environmental site assessors are a specific type of environmental consultant who inspect sites for certain environmental conditions, analyzing samples, and designing remediation projects. Review the chart below for some additional pros and cons of becoming an environmental site assessor.

Pros of an Environmental Site Assessor Career
Several degree fields can prepare for this career, including environmental science, geology, and engineering*
ESA can lead to environmental cleanup and remediation, benefiting people and wildlife in the area**
Some ESA jobs provide on-the-job training if you already have applicable environmental skills*
Creativity can be an asset in devising plans for Phase III remediation projects**

Cons of an Environmental Site Assessor Career
Possible exposure to toxins, like asbestos, lead paint, mold and radon*
Industry-specific credentials, like professional engineer (PE) or professional geologist (PG) licensure, as well as certification through OSHA may be required*
Entry-level workers may only be eligible to complete Phase I and Phase II ESA tests*
Positions may require frequent travel to various job sites*
Employers may prefer individuals with master's degrees, requiring about two years of intensive education beyond a bachelor's degree*

Sources: *Online job postings in September 2012, **Oregon State University

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Your duties as an environmental site assessor would vary depending on what part of the multi-step process you'd be responsible for completing. Phase I, the most common stage, involves physical site inspections and research. You could sort through government reports, ownership records, aerial photographs, maps and past environmental assessments, as well as interview prior property owners, employees or members of the community to gather an overview of known and potential environmental conditions. If this first review indicates that contamination is likely, you would carry out Phase II, which involves collecting samples of water, soil and building materials and then analyzing them on-site or in the lab.

The results of Phase II determine the scope of Phase III, the remediation and risk prevention process. In addition to cleaning up the site of currently existing hazards, you would evaluate the potential for future health risks and determine how you could safely convert the site to a residential community, industrial center or natural park. This involves referencing various environmental and zoning criteria and designing cleanup strategies. Determining remediation tactics for severely contaminated locations, like brownfields, may require high levels of ingenuity and creativity, as well as good budgeting and project management skills. All stages of ESA require scrupulous documentation.

Employment and Salary Info

The majority of environmental site assessors work for consulting firms. However, you could also find a job at an environmental lab, government agency or toxic chemical abatement company. Assessments take place in residential, industrial and community settings. As of March 2015, national statistics regarding employment growth specifically for environmental site assessors were unavailable. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that employment of environmental scientists and specialists would increase 15%, an average rate compared to all occupations, between 2012 and 2022.

In May 2014, the BLS reported that environmental scientists within the management, scientific, and technical consulting industry earned a mean salary of $72,050.

What Are the Requirements?

Though there are some associate's degree programs in environmental science technology that teach environmental site assessment, a bachelor's degree is what most employers require. Environmental science is a common major, though you could also complete a degree program in geology or engineering and choose an environmental concentration. Areas of emphasis may include air or water quality, occupational safety and health, and hazardous waste management.

Your courses would likely cover basic science subjects, industry regulations, environmental laws and technical procedures. Programs typically offer a course or two on environmental site assessment. Additionally, practical experience projects involving site visits and completion of ESA reports are commonly required.

Certification and Licensure

Though there is no nationwide credential required of environmental site assessors, you may be required to earn certain designations for your particular job. Certification through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is necessary for many environmental site assessor positions, since you could come into contact with dangerous conditions and substances and be involved in hazardous cleanup efforts. OSHA offers a 40-hour course that can lead to Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER) certification.

If you earn a geology or engineering degree, you may need to obtain licensure as professional geologist (PG) or professional engineer (PE) for public service jobs or for high-level positions. State boards may have extra stipulations, but you typically need to earn a relevant bachelor's degree, attain 4-5 years of professional work experience and pass licensing exams. Many states use the National Association of State Boards of Geology (ASBOG) exam for PG licensure. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) administers multiple engineering exams, including one in environmental engineering, which can lead to PE licensure.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

To be an environmental site assessor, you need a combination of technical and soft skills. It's important to be familiar with environmental laws and regulations at the local, state and national levels. Appropriate fieldwork and sampling techniques must be applied, requiring organization and attention to detail. Since you often work on a team, clear spoken communication is vital. Creating technical reports, maps and charts is often necessary, requiring research and writing abilities, in addition to proficiency with Microsoft Office programs and other technical software.

What Employers Are Seeking

Searches of online job boards in September 2012 revealed that most environmental site assessor positions were offered through consulting firms. Employers commonly required a bachelor's degree in environmental science, geology, engineering or a similar field. Relevant professional licenses and certifications are sometimes mandatory and travel is common. Check out the job posting summaries below to get a snapshot of the job market:

  • A New York construction consulting company advertised for a new college graduate to fill an assistant environmental project manager position. On-the-job training in performing Phase I ESA would be provided, though a bachelor's degree in a relevant field and 1-2 years of experience with environmental projects were required.
  • An environmental consulting business was seeking an environmental scientist to work in a Michigan office. Requirements included a bachelor's degree in a field related to environmental science and 1-3 years of experience in consulting, including performing Phase II ESA and carrying out remediation endeavors. Strong research and communication abilities were also necessary.
  • An environmental risk and engineering consulting firm needed a real estate consultant with a relevant bachelor's degree and 1-3 years of Phase I ESA and property condition assessments (PCA) experience. The candidate should have work experience with wetland environments. OSHA certification in HAZWOPER was also required. The company has five offices located in the major U.S. cities of Detroit, Chicago, Hartford, Dallas, and Atlanta, and up to half of assignments would require travel.
  • An international consulting firm searched for an experienced environmental engineer or environmental scientist to work in a New Jersey office; local applicants were favored. The job involves managing Phase I and Phase II site assessments, as well as remediation projects. A bachelor's degree, HAZWOPER certification through OSHA and a minimum of five years of experience were required; a master's degree and additional professional certifications were preferred.
  • An environmental organization in St. Louis was looking for an environmental geologist or engineer with a bachelor's degree and at least five years of experience. The job involves Phase I ESA, sampling, and designing remediation projects. Travel was required. The OSHA's HAZWOPER certification was mandatory, and other professional licenses were desired.

How to Stand Out in the Field

There are a few steps you can take to boost your skill set and increase your marketability. Check out the suggestions below, derived from the National Registry of Environmental Professionals (NREP) and employer preference lists from online job postings in September 2012.

  • Complete an internship with a professional consulting company during your bachelor's degree program. You can get experience going out in the field, collaborating with scientists and assembling reports.
  • Learn how to use relevant technology, like geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing. Software programs that may be useful to environmental site assessors include Adobe Acrobat, Corel DRAW, and TurboCAD.
  • If you choose to study geology or engineering, earn the respective professional license, professional geologist (PG) or professional engineer (PE), so you're eligible for a wider variety of jobs.
  • Earn voluntary certification through the NREP. Several designations that prove your ESA skills are available, including Associate Environmental Professional (AEP), Registered Environmental Property Assessor (REPA) and Registered Environmental Manager (REM). Education and work experience are necessary to sit for certification exams.
  • Although it requires about two additional years of schooling, consider completing a master's degree program. Though not always required, some employers give more consideration to candidates with advanced education.

Alternative Careers to Consider

If you know you'd like an environmentally focused job, but you're not sure if environmental consulting is the niche you'd like to fill, you have several options with a background in environmental science, environmental geology or environmental engineering. If you'd rather have a bigger role in designing creative, applicable solutions to environmental problems, you might go into renewable energy engineering to develop solar, wind, geothermal or biomass energy systems. Alternatively, in an environmental policy career, you could help organizations and governments develop strategies to clean up and remediate current hazardous sites, as well as create new plans for environmental protection.

A bachelor's degree is necessary for entry-level jobs in the renewable energy engineering and environmental policy fields, though earning a master's degree opens up more prestigious positions and better qualifies you to be a force of change. As reported by Payscale.com in September 2012, the majority of renewable energy engineers earned a yearly wage between about $48,000 and $97,000. Most policy analysts (not specifically environmental policy analysts) brought home annual salaries between roughly $35,000 and $83,000 during the same time period.

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