What Hazardous Materials Removal Workers Do
Hazardous materials removal workers identify and dispose of harmful substances such as asbestos, lead, and radioactive waste.
Work environments for hazmat removal workers vary. Completing projects may require night and weekend work. Overtime is common for some workers, particularly for those who respond to emergencies or disasters.
How to Become a Hazardous Materials Removal Worker
Hazmat removal workers typically need a high school diploma and are trained on the job. Workers may complete training that follows Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. Some hazmat removal workers need federally or state-mandated training, licensing, or permits, depending on the type of waste remediation.
The median annual wage for hazardous materials removal workers was $43,900 in May 2019.
Employment of hazmat removal workers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers identify and dispose of harmful substances, such as asbestos, lead, mold, and radioactive waste. They also neutralize and clean up materials that are flammable, corrosive, or toxic.
Hazmat removal workers typically do the following:
- Follow safety procedures before, during, and after cleanup
- Comply with state and federal laws regarding waste disposal
- Test hazardous materials to determine the proper way to clean up
- Construct scaffolding or build containment areas before cleaning up
- Remove, neutralize, or clean up hazardous materials that are found or spilled
- Clean contaminated tools and equipment for reuse
- Package, transport, or store hazardous materials
- Keep records of cleanup activities
Hazmat removal workers clean up materials that are harmful to people and the environment. They usually work in teams and follow strict instructions and guidelines. The specific duties of hazmat removal workers depend on the substances that are targeted and the location of the cleanup. For example, some workers remove and treat radioactive materials generated by nuclear facilities and power plants. They break down contaminated items such as “glove boxes,” which are used to process radioactive materials, and they clean and decontaminate facilities that are closed or decommissioned (taken out of service).
Hazmat removal workers may clean up hazardous materials in response to natural or human-made disasters and accidents, such as those involving trains, trucks, or other vehicles transporting hazardous materials.
Workers dealing with radiation may also measure, record, and report radiation levels; operate high-pressure cleaning equipment for decontamination; and package radioactive materials for removal or storage.
In addition, workers may prepare and transport hazardous materials for treatment, storage, or disposal following U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. Using equipment such as forklifts, earthmoving machinery, and trucks, workers move materials from contaminated sites to incinerators, landfills, or storage facilities. They also organize and track the locations of items in these facilities.
Asbestos abatement workers and lead abatement workers remove asbestos and lead, respectively, from buildings and structures, particularly those being renovated or demolished. Most of this work is in older buildings that were originally built with asbestos insulation and lead-based paints—both of which are now banned.
Asbestos and lead abatement workers apply chemicals to surfaces, such as walls and ceilings, in order to soften asbestos or remove lead-based paint. Once the chemicals are applied, workers remove asbestos from the surfaces or strip the walls. They package the residue or paint chips and place them in approved bags or containers for proper disposal. Asbestos abatement workers use scrapers or vacuums to remove asbestos from buildings. Lead abatement workers operate sandblasters, high-pressure water sprayers, and other tools to remove paint.
Hazardous materials removal workers held about 45,300 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of hazardous materials removal workers were as follows:
|Remediation and other waste management services||60%|
|Waste treatment and disposal||11|
Working conditions vary with the hazardous material being removed. For example, workers removing lead or asbestos often spend time in confined spaces or at great heights and must bend or stoop to remove the material. Workers responding to emergency and disaster scenarios may be outside in all types of weather.
Asbestos and lead abatement workers typically are in buildings being renovated or torn down, or in confined spaces.
Hazmat removal work may be physically demanding and strenuous.
Injuries and Illnesses
Cleaning or removing hazardous materials is dangerous, and workers must follow specific safety procedures to avoid injuries and illnesses. They usually work in teams and follow instructions from a team leader or site supervisor.
Workers wear coveralls, gloves, shoe covers, and safety glasses or goggles to reduce their exposure to harmful materials. Some must wear fully closed protective suits for several hours at a time, which may be hot and uncomfortable. For extremely toxic cleanups, hazmat removal workers also are required to wear respirators to protect themselves from airborne particles or noxious gases. Lead abatement workers wear personal air monitors that measure the amount of lead exposure.
Most hazmat removal workers are employed full time. Overtime is common for some workers, especially for those who respond to emergency and disaster scenarios.
Some hazmat removal workers travel to areas affected by a disaster. During a cleanup, workers may be away from home for several days or weeks until the project is completed.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of hazardous materials removal workers.
|Occupation||Job Duties||Entry-Level Education||Median Annual Pay, May 2019|
Construction Laborers and Helpers
Construction laborers and helpers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.
|See How to Become One||$36,000|
Firefighters control and put out fires and respond to emergencies where life, property, or the environment is at risk.
|Postsecondary nondegree award||$50,850|
Insulation workers install and replace the materials used to insulate buildings or mechanical systems.
|See How to Become One||$44,180|
Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators
Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators manage a system of machines to transfer or treat water or wastewater.
|High school diploma or equivalent||$47,760|
For more information about hazardous materials removal workers in the construction industry, including information on training, visit
For more information about working in the nuclear industry, visit
For information about training and regulations mandated by federal agencies, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Hazardous Materials Removal Workers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/hazardous-materials-removal-workers.htm (visited ).