Environmental Science and Protection Technicians


Environmental science and protection technicians monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution and contamination, including those affecting public health.

Duties

Environmental science and protection technicians typically do the following:

  • Inspect establishments, including public places and businesses, to ensure that there are no environmental, health, or safety hazards
  • Set up and maintain equipment used to monitor pollution levels, such as remote sensors that measure emissions from smokestacks
  • Collect samples of air, soil, water, and other materials for laboratory analysis
  • Clearly label, track, and ensure the integrity of samples being transported to the laboratory
  • Use equipment, such as microscopes, to evaluate and analyze samples for the presence of pollutants or other contaminants
  • Prepare charts and reports that summarize test results
  • Discuss test results and analyses with clients
  • Verify compliance with regulations that help prevent pollution

Many environmental science and protection technicians work under the supervision of environmental scientists and specialists, who direct the technicians’ work and evaluate their results. In addition, technicians often work on teams with scientists, engineers, and technicians in other fields to solve complex problems related to environmental degradation and public health. For example, they may work on teams with geoscientists and hydrologists to manage the cleanup of contaminated soils and ground water around an abandoned bomb-manufacturing site.

Most environmental science and protection technicians work for consulting firms, state or local governments, or testing laboratories.

In consulting firms, environmental science and protection technicians help clients monitor and manage the environment and comply with regulations. For example, they help businesses develop cleanup plans for contaminated sites, and they recommend ways to reduce, control, or eliminate pollution. Also, environmental science and protection technicians conduct feasibility studies for, and monitor the environmental impact of, new construction projects.

In state and local governments, environmental science and protection technicians inspect businesses and public places, and investigate complaints related to air quality, water quality, and food safety. They may be involved with the enforcement of environmental regulations. They also may help protect the environment and people’s health by performing environmental impact studies of new construction. Or they may evaluate the environmental health of sites that may contaminate the environment, such as abandoned industrial sites.

In testing laboratories, environmental science and protection technicians collect and track samples, and perform tests that are often similar to those carried out by chemical technicians, biological technicians, or microbiologists. However, in contrast to the work done by these science workers, that done by environmental science and protection technicians focuses on topics that are directly related to the environment and how it affects human health.

Environmental science and protection technicians typically specialize either in laboratory testing or in fieldwork and sample collection. However, it is common for laboratory technicians to occasionally collect samples from the field and for fieldworkers to do some work in a laboratory.

Environmental science and protection technicians held about 34,800 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of environmental science and protection technicians were as follows:

Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 23%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 21
Testing laboratories 12
State government, excluding education and hospitals 7
Engineering services 5

Environmental science and protection technicians work in laboratories, offices, and the field. Fieldwork offers a variety of settings. For example, technicians may investigate an abandoned manufacturing plant, or work outdoors to test the water quality of lakes and rivers. They may work near streams and rivers, monitoring the levels of pollution caused by runoff from cities and landfills, or they may have to use the crawl spaces under a house in order to neutralize natural health risks such as radon. While working outdoors, they may be exposed to adverse weather conditions.

In the field, environmental science and protection technicians spend most of their time on their feet, which can be physically demanding. They also may need to carry and set up testing equipment, which can involve some heavy lifting and frequent bending and crouching. Fieldwork may be seasonal, depending on the location, since low temperatures in the winter could inhibit taking samples from water sources or soil.

Depending on the type of work and fieldwork they do, technicians may need to wear protective gear such as hardhats, masks, and coveralls to protect them from hazards.

Work Schedules

Environmental science and protection technicians typically work full time. Working in the field exposes them to all types of weather. Also, technicians may need to travel to meet with clients or to perform fieldwork, either of which may require technicians to work additional or irregular hours.

Environmental science and protection technicians typically need an associate’s degree or 2 years of postsecondary education, although some positions require a bachelor’s degree.

Education

Environmental science and protection technicians typically need an associate’s degree in environmental science, environmental health, or public health, or a related degree. Because of the wide range of tasks, environments, and industries in which these technicians work, there are jobs that do not require postsecondary education and others that require a bachelor’s degree.

A background in natural sciences is important for environmental science and protection technicians. Students should take courses in chemistry, biology, geology, and physics. Coursework in math, statistics, and computer science also is useful, because technicians routinely do data analysis and modeling.

Many technical and community colleges offer programs in environmental studies or a related technology, such as remote sensing or geographic information systems (GISs). While in college, students should include coursework that provides laboratory experience.

Associate’s degree programs at community colleges often are designed to allow students to easily transfer to bachelor’s degree programs at public colleges and universities.

Training

Technicians whose jobs involve handling hazardous waste typically need to complete training in accordance with Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) standards. The length of training depends on the type of hazardous material that workers handle. The training covers health hazards, personal protective equipment and clothing, site safety, recognizing and identifying hazards, and decontamination.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Environmental science and protection technicians must carry out a wide range of laboratory and field tests, and their results must be accurate and precise.

Communication skills. Environmental science and protection technicians must have good listening and writing skills, because they must follow precise directions for sample collection and communicate their results effectively in written reports. They also need to discuss their results with colleagues, clients, and, sometimes, public audiences.

Critical-thinking skills. Environmental science and protection technicians reach their conclusions through sound reasoning and judgment. They have to determine the best way to address environmental hazards.

Interpersonal skills. Environmental science and protection technicians need to work well and collaborate with others, because they often work with scientists and other technicians.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In some states, environmental science and protection technicians can benefit from obtaining certification to conduct certain types of environmental and health inspections. For example, certification for technicians who test buildings for radon is offered through the National Radon Safety Board (NRSB).

The Registered Environmental Health Specialist/Registered Sanitarian (REHS/RS) credential is offered through the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA).

The median annual wage for environmental science and protection technicians was $46,170 in May 2018.

The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,530, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,130.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for environmental science and protection technicians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals $49,720
State government, excluding education and hospitals 46,440
Engineering services 45,560
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 42,810
Testing laboratories 38,820

Environmental science and protection technicians typically work full time. Working in the field exposes them to all types of weather. Also, technicians may need to travel to meet with clients or to perform fieldwork, either of which may require technicians to work additional or irregular hours.

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Median annual wages, May 2018

Life, physical, and social science technicians

$46,740

Environmental science and protection technicians, including health

$46,170

Total, all occupations

$38,640

 

Employment of environmental science and protection technicians is projected to grow 9 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. Heightened public interest in issues involving the environment, such as fracking, as well as the increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth, is expected to spur demand for environmental science and protection technicians.

Most employment growth for environmental science and protection technicians is projected to be in the industry of management, scientific, and technical consulting services. More businesses and governments are expected to use these firms in the future to help them monitor and manage the environment and comply with regulations.

Employment projections data for environmental science and protection technicians, 2018-28
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Environmental science and protection technicians, including health

19-4091 34,800 38,000 9 3,200 Get data

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of environmental science and protection technicians.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2018

Agricultural and Food Science Technicians

Agricultural and food science technicians assist agricultural and food scientists.

Associate’s degree $40,860

Biological Technicians

Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.

Bachelor’s degree $44,500

Chemical Technicians

Chemical technicians use special instruments and techniques to assist chemists and chemical engineers.

Associate’s degree $48,160

Environmental Engineering Technicians

Environmental engineering technicians carry out the plans that environmental engineers develop.

Associate’s degree $50,560

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health.

Bachelor’s degree $71,130

Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians aid criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence.

Bachelor’s degree $58,230

Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth.

Bachelor’s degree $91,130

Hydrologists

Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust.

Bachelor’s degree $79,370

Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.

Bachelor’s degree $52,330

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians

Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians collect data on and analyze many types of work environments and work procedures.

See How to Become One $69,370

For more information about environmental health technicians and related occupations, visit

National Environmental Health Association

For more information about training, visit

UCAR

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

For more information specific to radon technicians, visit

National Radon Safety Board

O*NET

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians, Including Health


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Environmental Science and Protection Technicians,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-science-and-protection-technicians.htm (visited ).


 

Tracey Lamphere

Tracey Lamphere, M.S. IMC is the editor of Job Affirmations, a publication that provides information and ideas to use mindfulness, positive affirmations, and visualizations to transform your career.

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