Environmental Protection Technician Careers: Salary & Job Description

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An environmental protection technician's average salary is around $46,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an environmental protection technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Environmental Protection Technician Career

The role of the environmental protection technician is to keep land, people, waterways and wildlife safe from potentially hazardous situations. The following is a list of the pros and cons of a career in environmental protection to help you decide whether working in nature and laboratories is right for you.

Pros of an Environmental Protection Technician Career
High job-growth career (19% projected between 2012 and 2022)*
Advanced degree not usually required**
Most environmental protection technicians receive on-the-job training*
Many jobs are full-time positions with regular hours*

Cons of an Environmental Protection Technician Career
Wages can vary depending on employing agency and location (average salaries range from about $36,000-$76,000 by industry and about $35,000-$61,000 by state)*
Potential to work outdoors in inclement weather*
May need to obtain experience in an environmental position before landing some jobs**
Long and irregular work hours may be required*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Various job postings.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Environmental protection technicians work to keep people, wildlife, waterways and land safe from potentially hazardous situations. They work in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, wastewater treatment, labs and government agencies. Environmental protection is a growing field due to greater concern about pollution and about air, water and soil quality.

Environmental protection technicians perform laboratory and field tests to analyze environmental resources and determine the contaminants that are causing pollution. They may take samples for testing or engage in reducing and managing the causes of pollution. Some are responsible for waste management operations, general activities involving regulatory compliance and control and management of hazardous materials inventory. In this career, you could specialize in radon testing, wastewater treatment or other areas concerned with environmental health.

Career Outlook and Salary

Employment of environmental protection technicians was projected to increase by 19% between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than average for all occupations, according to the BLS. An increase in public awareness and the impact population growth will have on the environment is expected to increase demand for technicians.

The BLS reported that science and environmental protection technicians made an average yearly wage of about $46,000 as of May 2014. In the same year, the electric power generation, transmission and distribution industry offered the highest average salary, which was about $76,000.

What Are the Requirements?

According to the BLS, most environmental protection technicians need an associate's degree in an environmental science-related technology. However, employer preferences can vary, even within the same industry. Some require a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry or environmental science, while others don't require any college training at all.

Necessary Skills

Whatever the degree, technicians need some hands-on training. You can find formal 2-year training programs, such as the Associate of Science in Environmental Sciences and Management, which combine classroom and hands-on laboratory training. Schools may also offer bachelor's degree programs in areas like environmental engineering technology and environmental protection with numerous lab-based courses. Summer jobs and internships in a laboratory are also possible training options. According to the BLS, some of the skills you need to work as an environmental protection technician include:

  • Computer skills
  • Applied math, physics and chemistry
  • Laboratory skills
  • Sampling skills
  • Accuracy in reporting data

Required Certifications

Some academic programs in environmental technology provide the opportunity to prepare for professional certification. According to various job postings found in 2012, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) 40-hour training certificate signifies an understanding of hazardous waste operations and emergency response to spills. The certificate is required to work at hazardous waste treatment and disposal facilities, uncontrolled hazardous waste facilities and hazardous waste Superfund sites. The OSHA 30-hour General Industry training is required for those working for organizations that produce hazardous waste. Some agencies prefer to hire candidates who already hold these certifications, according to 2012 Monster.com job postings, but you may be able to earn the certification after getting hired.

Job Postings From Real Employers

While not all employers require that their employees have degrees, some prior field-related experience is usually necessary. Additionally, some employers prefer candidates who have other certification, training experiences or an understanding of state and federal regulations. The following available job postings can give you an idea of what real employers are looking for in the job market:

  • An environmental consulting firm in Kansas posted an ad in March 2012 for an environmental technician who can sample soil and groundwater, supervise soil excavation and submit accurate reports. The hired candidate will be responsible for taking detailed notes and traveling 3-5 days per week. Qualifications include 1-3 years of remediation experience, the ability to operate various types of equipment, computer skills and moderate physical strength.
  • A Massachusetts-based waste management firm posted a job ad in May 2012 seeking general labor environmental technicians to assist with industrial hazardous waste cleanup. Working at various client facilities, responding to off-hours emergency calls and the ability to wear protective equipment were required. They also preferred candidates with a 40-hour HAZWOPER certificate or similar credentials, and 3-5 years of industrial work experience were required.
  • A Pennsylvania engineering and energy consulting firm sought environmental technicians in March 2012 to conduct compliance inspections and sample collection. They wanted candidates with 1-3 years of experience who can prepare accurate reports and work long hours. While it wasn't required, a bachelor's degree in environmental science or similar field and mining experience were preferred.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Several organizations offer optional certifications for environmental protection technicians. For instance, the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) certifies wastewater treatment systems installers and environmental health technicians. Environmental health specialists, sanitarians, environmental technicians and hazardous substances specialists can also obtain registration through the NEHA. The World Safety Organization provides credentials for safety and hazardous materials professionals, which can show employers that you have specialized knowledge and have worked to obtain further education.

You can also earn voluntary professional certifications through the National Registry of Environmental Professionals and the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management. These certifications are the Associate Environmental Professional and the Certified Hazardous Materials Manager credentials, respectively. An exam is required for both.

Other Careers to Consider

Biological Technician

If you would prefer to work with living organisms or help research cures to diseases, you could use your science and lab skills as a biological technician. The BLS reported in 2011 that these workers earned an average salary of about $42,000. These technicians are predicted to see a 14% job growth from 2010-2020, which is average for all occupations.

While these figures are lower than those for environmental protection technicians, the field is larger. The BLS noted that biological technicians could expect about 11,000 new jobs between 2010 and 2020, which is about 4,000 more than for environmental technicians. A bachelor's degree in a biological science is usually required for this position.

Environmental Engineer

If you'd like to help solve environmental issues from a development perspective, working as an environmental engineering might be a good fit. The BLS projected there would be about 4,000 more jobs for environmental engineers than technicians from 2010-2020. They work to control hazardous environmental contamination through the application of engineering principles.

Environmental engineers earned an average salary of about $83,000 in 2011, according to the BLS. A bachelor's degree is the typical requirement for entry-level positions in environmental engineering. The BLS projected a 22% job growth between 2010 and 2020 for environmental engineers, which is much faster than average, according to the BLS.

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