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Industrialization, urbanization, and agricultural processes have all taken a toll on our natural resources. Particulates released in the air from smokestacks, whether in the process of bringing power into our homes or creating the steel to make our cars, has the potential to toxify our environment. Industrial and residential waste has contributed to the pollution of our soil and water. Logging operations that at one time stripped our natural forests; endangered animals we thought were plentiful. Our environment, which we once took for granted as indestructible, is now acknowledged as fragile.

Recognizing the importance of preserving and conserving natural resources and the purity of the environment has resulted in the evolution of the interdisciplinary science of the environment. Increasing awareness, in all segments of government and industry, of the importance of the environment to the country's and world's economies, as well as its own economic health has meant a demand for professionals trained to deal with the fragile balance of biological, chemical, and physical relationships that make a healthy ecosystem. Industries are very amenable to employing environmental specialists within their own ranks so that they can plan ahead for environmental preservation and conservation as well as respond to environmental regulations. Government agencies employ environmental scientists in research and regulation to monitor environmental health and help rectify damage to the environment. The combination of proactive forces within the industry and reaction to regulation imposed by governmental agencies opens many opportunities for knowledgeable and skilled environmental technicians.


The environmental technician may find job opportunities in industry; for federal, state, and local governments; or in colleges and universities. Areas of concern to environmental technicians include, but are not limited to, sanitation, air, and water pollution; soil contamination; industrial waste; and hazardous waste prevention, disposal, and cleanup.

Another aspect of the environmental program is the conservation of land and animal life. National and state forests and parks employ teams of environmentalists to monitor, record, and preserve these precious resources. Their work may range from recording wildlife in remote areas to conducting educational programs for the heavily visited recreational sites.

New concern is also developing in the areas of noise and light pollution. Technicians starting out in the environmental field may consider coursework or fieldwork in these areas.

There is not a typical job in this category. Processes involve monitoring environmental quality, assessing or evaluating environmental quality, rectifying or developing plans to rectify environmental quality problems, and ensuring compliance with regulations. For most technicians this requires work in the field and in the laboratory. It requires written and at times oral reports of assessments and plans for improvement. Some of the major categories of environmental and conservation jobs are discussed in this chapter.

Environmental Technician: Pollution Control

Maintaining the quality of our air, water, and soil means both preventing pollution and contamination and cleaning it up where damage has been done before governmental regulations took effect. The technicians who work in this area use sophisticated equipment to monitor environmental quality; collect samples of air, soil, and water; and measure the degrees of contaminants and impurities. They record and chart levels of contamination and write reports of their findings.

Environmental technicians may also be called on to develop systems to decontaminate areas where pollution has been found or to develop policies and systems to prevent contamination from occurring in new industrial, commercial, or residential developments.

Most environmental technicians develop specialties, according to the specific industry or governmental agency where they find work. Specialties may include air pollution, water pollution, or radioactive waste disposal. Other forms of specialization, depending on the size of the industry or agency, may require a technician to work primarily in the field setting up monitoring equipment, maintaining it, and collecting measurements and samples. Others may find work confined to laboratory analysis, designing and testing test equipment. Still others may work assisting scientists and engineers who are developing systems of decontamination, finding ways of preventing contamination, and developing policy. All of these technicians will have to work with sophisticated equipment and computers and prepare reports.

Pollution control technicians can expect to earn salaries similar to those quoted in Chapter 1 for science technicians as a group. The salary range can go as low as $14,000 and as high as $37,000. Most pollution control technicians earn about $25,000. The average range is about $18,000 to $30,000.

Air Pollution Control Technician

Air pollution technicians may be involved with monitoring general air quality in a specified geographic area or coming from specific potential polluters such as industries or power plants.

Working with a specific form of pollution, technicians may collect samples of air at industrial or plant sites and at appropriate locations surrounding them. They perform laboratory analysis to determine the level of contamination and prepare results of their work in reports. These technicians are more likely than the general field or laboratory technicians to have to work either near toxic fumes or chemicals or in dirty or noisy plants.

Monitoring general air quality outdoors, technicians set up permanent monitoring stations equipped to collect data and samples at regular intervals. Technicians set up and maintain the equipment as well as make regular visits to the stations to collect data. They may also be responsible for mobile monitoring stations, usually set up in vans, which they use to monitor sites on an "as needed" basis or less frequently than the permanent station monitors.


Water supply and sanitation services are expected to be the fastest growing segments of the utilities. In 1992 this segment was the smallest public utility employer, with 157,000 workers or 16.5 percent of the utility workforce. By 2005 this segment is expected to grow by 42.6 percent. There are three primary forces fueling the growth. National growth in population translates to more refuse produced. This will stimulate growth in jobs for refuse collectors, truck drivers, and material movers at landfills and other collection sites. The movement to recycle more waste products and increasing hazardous waste regulations also will provide impetus for the job growth of 50 percent expected among water and liquid waste treatment plant operators and machinery, equipment, and motor vehicle mechanics. There are a variety of jobs for technicians in water supply and waste management.

Water Technicians

Wastewater technicians may work outdoors monitoring water quality and collecting samples, all of which is similar to the job of the air control technician. They set up stations and take samples to monitor levels of industrial waste, including water temperature. Some tests on water samples must be performed in the field, others in a laboratory setting. Thus the water control technician may find that there is much outdoor work required in all types of weather. There are also many opportunities working in waterworks, ensuring the purity of water in the drinking supply. This job description for the experienced and knowledgeable technician also indicates the range of other technical jobs available in a waterworks.

Supervisors, water treatment plants (from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles), supervise and coordinate activities of workers engaged in operating and maintaining equipment in the water treatment plant. They direct activities of workers engaged in filtering, chemically treating pumping, and testing fresh and processed water in preparation for human or industrial use; plan daily work schedules and assign tasks to workers based on priority of work and expertise of individual workers; and inspect equipment such as filters, chlorine indicators, basins, filtered water basins, and pumps to detect malfunctions. Supervisors also direct workers in the repair of equipment or report needs for repairs to designated authority. They maintain records on chemical usage and storage, equipment operation, and personnel attendance. This position may require licensing or certification.

Water treatment plant operators (from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles) control treatment plant machines and equipment to purify and clarify water for human consumption and for industrial use. They operate and control electric motors, pumps, and valves to regulate the flow of raw water into the treating plant; dump specified amounts of chemicals, such as chlorine, ammonia, and lime, into water or adjust automatic devices that admit specified amounts of chemicals into tanks to disinfect, deodorize, and clarify water; and start agitators to mix chemicals and allow impurities to settle to the bottom of tank. These operators turn valves to regulate water through filter beds to remove impurities; pump purified water into water mains; monitor the panel-board and adjust controls to regulate flow rates, loss of head pressure and water elevation, and distribution of water; and clean tanks and filter beds using backwashing (reverse flow of water). In addition, water treatment plant operators repair and lubricate machines and equipment using handtools and powertools; test water samples to determine acidity, color, and impurities using the colorimeter, turbid meter, and conductivity meter; and add chemicals such as alum into tanks to coagulate impurities and reduce acidity. Finally, operators record data such as residual content of chemicals, water turbidity, and water pressure and they may operate the portable water purification tank to supply drinking water. Some alternate titles for this position include: filter operator, purifying plant operator, and water control station engineer.

Two kinds of water pollution specialties merit particular attention: the wastewater treatment plant technician and the estuarine technician. Wastewater technicians work for water authorities maintaining the purity of water coming from waste treatment plants back into the public water supply. These technicians are often required to be licensed by the state in which they wish to work.

Some job titles for the experienced technician found in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles are the supervisory wastewater treatment plant operator; instructor, wastewater treatment plant; and wastewater treatment plant operator.

Estuaries are complex ecosystems found along the coasts where freshwater rivers and streams meet the saltwater of the ocean. The environmental balance of these ecosystems is very delicate and particularly susceptible to damage from polluting industrial wastes carried downriver. Estuarine technicians monitor water quality in ways similar to that of other water pollution technicians, but they also monitor plant and animal life in the estuary. Their work will take them aboard boats and often into the water in diving gear, as well as into laboratories.

Following is a sample job description of a waste management technician taken from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, State Civil Service Commission.

Waste Management Technician

Water treatment plant operators may be required to perform a wide variety of duties, beginning with the intake of raw or untreated water and taking it through the purification process to the release of drinking water. These duties would include regulating the intake of untreated water by operating electrical motors, pumps, and valves; adding precise amounts of chemicals to the water; regulating the agitation and filtering of impurities from the water; and pumping the purified water into water mains. From the water mains, operators regulate the flow of water out of the mains and its distribution. Operators test the water using sophisticated equipment to determine its acidity, number of impurities, color, and other quality measures. They record data concerning water quality and chemical treatments to the water supply. Operators may also be responsible for cleaning tanks and filter beds and maintaining equipment. How these duties are divided among teams of operators varies according to the size of the water treatment plant.

Sanitation and Refuse

With the increasing population and the increasing waste that it entails, refuse disposal and sanitation are growing concerns. Positions in this field, likewise, are expected to grow. It is becoming an increasingly difficult technical job to dispose of waste without damage or destruction to the natural environment. Some jobs in this category are found in incinerating facilities, in landfills, and, most critically, in radioactive waste disposal.

Supervisors, incinerator plants (from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles), supervise and coordinate the activities of incinerator plant workers engaged in the operation, maintenance, and repair of the incinerator furnace and auxiliary equipment such as grates, fans, compressors, temperature controls, overhead electric cranes, and ventilating and hydraulic equipment.

Sanitary landfill supervisors (from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles) supervise and coordinate the activities of workers engaged in landfill operations, utilizing knowledge of local, state, and federal laws regulating waste disposal. They direct operations such as spreading and compacting solid waste and spraying insecticides to control insects and pests. They may assist in selecting new sites according to community population.

Dispatchers, radioactive waste disposal (from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles) coordinate the activities of workers engaged in mixing and controlling the flow of chemicals and radioactive waste through pipelines, storage tanks, and sampling areas. They review processing schedules to determine receiving and transferring priorities, and they notify workers of the types and quantities for processing, their destinations, the pumping schedules, and the operating procedures. Dispatchers also monitor the panel-board to ensure that temperatures, pressures, pH readings, and the contamination content of waste chemicals conform to schedule and processing specifications. They review reports to ensure the accuracy of the amounts received, processed, transferred, or stored.


Environmental projects inspectors are responsible for the inspection of materials and workmanship on a wide range of construction projects such as park buildings, roads and bridges, dams, treatment plants, mine reclamation construction projects, and flood control facilities located throughout the Commonwealth. They interpret contract requirements in specifications, engineering plans, and drawings and apply standard inspection and testing techniques to ensure that construction meets requirements.

Job Titles Starting Salary

Environmental projects inspector 1 $19,932

Environmental projects inspector 2 22,631

Both jobs involve the same type of inspection work. However, the inspector 2 has less supervision and more independence in working on projects and works on larger and more complex projects.

These jobs often require frequent travel to the site of the project or possibly temporary relocation to the project area.

Educational Qualifications

Programs that concentrate in environmental technician training are relatively new. Technicians with strong science backgrounds in specific fields such as chemistry, biology, and marine science may qualify for environmental technician jobs within the industry of their specialization. Recently, community colleges and industry have been working together to establish model programs for specific training as an environmental technician. These programs offer training in several of the natural sciences and internships that give the candidate on-the-job training and often a specialization within environmental concerns.


When settlers first came to America, the land was covered with original, pristine forests. The forests must have seemed endless and indestructible. Land was cleared for agriculture and timber was harvested for construction. By the early part of the twentieth century, many of the eastern states were stripped of their forests, and the need for the management of forests became apparent. Forests became recognized as a natural resource to be farmed, replanted, and in some cases preserved in their natural state. This developed forestry management for commercial and recreational use as professional fields.

Opportunities for Employment

In 1992 there were about 35,000 forest and conservation workers, including technicians, working in the United States assisting forest research and management scientists and professional foresters. Employment growth for forestry technicians is expected to be moderate through 2005, increasing about as fast as for all occupations.

Areas of growth in opportunities are expected to come in forest management for recreational purposes and use by timber companies, research in the production of water from forests, and research into better methods of planting and growing forests.

Working Conditions

As would be expected, the work of forestry technicians is most often physically demanding. They may spend most or all of their workday outdoors in all kinds of weather. In forests or in parts of forests that are undeveloped, traveling to remote locations on unpaved roads or in the absence of roads is difficult. Forestry technicians working in laboratory or office situations can usually count on clean and comfortable surroundings.

Forestry technicians (Dictionary of Occupational Titles, forester aide) compile data pertaining to the size, content, condition, and other characteristics of forest tracts under the direction of the forester, and lead workers in forest propagation, fire prevention and suppression, and facilitate maintenance. They traverse the forest in a designated pattern to gather basic forest data such as topographical features, species and population of trees, wood units available for harvest, disease and insect damage, tree seedling mortality, and conditions constituting fire danger. They mark trees of specified specie, condition, and size for thinning or logging; collect and record data from instruments such as rain gauges, thermometers, stream flow recorders, and soil moisture gauges; hold staid rods, clear survey lines, measure distances, record survey data, and perform related duties to assist in surveying property lines, timber sales boundaries, and road and recreational sites; and train and lead conservation workers in seasonal activities such as planting tree seedlings, collecting seed cones, suppressing fires, cleaning and maintaining recreational facilities, and clearing fire breaks and access roads. They also give instructions to visitors to the forest and enforce camping, vehicle use, fire building, sanitation, and other forest regulations. The many types of forestry technicians include the following:

Forest recreation technicians Forestry research technicians Forestry consulting technicians Forest fire control technicians Refuge management technicians Wildlife technicians Fish and game preserve managers

Salary Expectations

The beginning forestry technician will earn from $13,500 to $16,000. The average salary range is $15,000 to $19,000. Forestry technicians who advance to supervisory positions earn $25,000, on average.

Educational Requirements

Forestry technicians must have specialized knowledge in the field. There are two-year programs available at some community and state colleges specializing in forestry courses; some agricultural programs may be applicable as well. Licenses are required for some forestry technician positions. Technicians who work with pesticides and chemicals or who are responsible for land surveys may have to be licensed by the state in which they work.


Park technicians assist park rangers and superintendents in the day-to-day operation and maintenance of state and national parks and recreational facilities. They also may be employed managing or assisting in privately developed recreational facilities such as golf courses, ski resorts, and garden centers. Technicians oversee the landscaping or condition of the natural terrain of the park or area. They may be responsible for supervising maintenance and landscaping crews. They may help develop plans for the conservation of the natural beauty and forestation on the park grounds. They may monitor and help conserve wildlife. Technicians are often responsible for educational programs and displays, teaching visitors to the park about the natural history and development of the park and how to use it recreationally without disturbance to the environment. Two somewhat opposing, but complementary, trends are creating more opportunities for park technicians. State and local governments are increasing the amount of land being protected and there is increasing concern for recreational use of parklands. Balancing these two needs and trends will demand more skilled and knowledgeable workers in park and recreational facilities.

Salary Expectations

Park technicians earn $15,000 to $18,000 on entering the occupation. Experienced technicians earn from $17,000 to $22,000. This range must be interpreted carefully. There may be wide variation in salaries offered by different state and county governments, as well as privately run recreational facilities.


Preserving our natural resources has turned much attention to the efficient use of our natural resources, including the fossil fuels that supply our energy needs to homes and industry. It also has called for energy conservation in relation to nuclear plants to reduce the amount of hazardous waste produced and the potential for damage to our environment. Many job opportunities exist for the technician who can work in these areas assessing the efficiency of current energy use, finding methods to correct current processes or machinery and equipment that may be wasteful, and developing new technologies that make more efficient use of fuel and produce fewer harmful environmental effects. Job opportunities for skilled energy conservation technicians can be found in each of the following areas.

Laboratory technicians: Federal and state governments, private industries, research organizations and institutes, and the military all offer job opportunities for technicians in researching and developing more efficient fuels and methods of producing, distributing, and using energy. Technicians can come with a variety of backgrounds in laboratory science and the physical sciences. Their work would involve setting up and performing laboratory tests and analysis of fuels and of equipment for generating energy from them. Exciting opportunities exist in research of the uses of renewable resources such as hydraulics, solar, thermal, and wind power for large-scale energy production and for more uses of these resources for site-specific smaller-scale production.

Engineering technicians assist engineers in the development of new equipment. They will be involved in building and testing prototype equipment for energy generation. They may also help to install, maintain, and repair equipment in actual use at power generating facilities.

Industrial energy conservation technicians are employed by industrial firms using large amounts of energy in industrial and manufacturing processes to monitor energy use and to help make the most efficient and cost-effective use of energy.

Energy conservation technicians can come from a variety of technical backgrounds, including from specific programs in energy conservation technology that are being developed by some colleges and technical institutes. Other engineering and science technology graduates can apply their skills and background to energy conservation technology, particularly in combination with an apprenticeship in the field, working on energy systems use or development and/or coursework in instrumentation, electronics, or an appropriate science. The associate's degree is almost always required.

Salary Expectations

Beginning energy conservation technicians can expect to earn about $14,000 to $18,000. The technical school graduate or those with military or three to six years of experience can expect to start at the $18,000 range. Those without the degree will start at about $14,000. With experience and expertise technicians can expect earnings of $30,000 or more depending upon the specifics of their work and the employer.

The same college offers an Energy Management Technology Associate in Science Degree with an increased specialization in solar energy. This program substitutes three courses: Solar Collectors and Energy Storage, Sizing, Design, and Retrofit, and Operation of Solar Systems for the two energy electives, and the Energy and the Environment course.

For more opportunities in the energy industry, please see Chapter 2 of this book.
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