Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Green Job Series: Careers in Environmental Remediation [First Installment]

Environmental remediation is the removal of pollution or contaminants from water (both ground water and surface water) and soil. These waste products are removed for the protection of human health, as well as to restore the environment. In some cases, a site is so contaminated that it can only be fenced off and isolated as much as possible from the rest of the environment.

Several types of workers are involved in environmental remediation. They might be employed by companies in architectural, engineering, and related services industries; by management, scientific, and technical consulting firms; or by state, local, or federal government agencies.

This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series describes science occupations in environmental remediation.

Science Occupations

Science workers perform studies of the areas that will be remediated and help to determine the best ways to conduct the remediation. They perform tests to see which pollutants are present at a remediation site and determine the most effective technology for removing or remediating each pollutant.

These science workers might spend time outdoors studying the site or have technicians perform the site work. They might spend time in a laboratory testing soil or water samples collected at potential remediation sites.

Job Duties

Biochemists and biophysicists study the biological effects of pollutants and the effect of these pollutants on the local environment. They also study organisms that are used in bioremediation.

Chemists investigate the characteristics of chemicals that have caused a site to be contaminated and those used to remediate the site. When new chemicals are introduced into the soil or water for the purposes of remediation, chemists must ensure that those chemicals do not cause additional harm and will be effective in the removal of pollution.

Chemical technicians assist chemists and other scientists with testing chemical pollutants or with processes for cleaning them up.

Conservation scientists oversee the overall land quality of remediation sites. They work with landowners and government agencies to devise ways to improve the land and safeguard the environment. They evaluate data on soil and water quality and assess damage to the land from pollution. They help to monitor the remediation process.

Environmental scientists and specialists work to reclaim lands and waters that have been contaminated by pollution and work with other scientists and engineers to determine the most effective and safest ways to clean up a site.

Environmental science and protection technicians conduct laboratory and field tests to monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution. They also conduct tests during the process of remediation to determine the progress of the remediation project.

Geoscientists work with other scientists and specialists to determine the effects and extent of soil pollution and the techniques that would be the most economical for remediation.

Hydrologists determine the water cycle at a contaminated site and the overall effects of pollution on the local water supply. They study ground water, as well as local water sources such as rivers, lakes, and streams, to monitor the flow of contaminants across different bodies of water.

Bioremediation techniques require the use of microorganisms to remove contaminants, and microbiologists determine which organisms would be best for a particular site. They also monitor the progress of the site as the bioremediation is carried out, collecting samples and analyzing them.

Education and Training

Entry-level education for science occupations varies from an associate's degree or comparable postsecondary education for technicians to a Ph.D. for biochemists and biophysicists. A bachelor's degree may be sufficient to enter some of the science occupations, but a master's or Ph.D. is typically required to conduct research.

Scientists must have a variety of skills and important qualities. Computer skills are essential for the majority of scientists because computers are used heavily for data analysis and integration, digital mapping, remote sensing, and the construction of computer models. Scientists must also have excellent written and verbal communications skills, because they must present their findings to other members of a remediation team, including those without a science background.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently does not have wage data specific to the environmental remediation industry. The table that follows shows wages for selected science occupations in the waste management and remediation services industry group for May 2011. The wages shown are median annual wages for the United States as a whole; wages vary by employer and location.

Occupation Median annual wage
Biochemists and biophysicists $79,230
Chemists $58,860
Chemical technicians $41,620
Conservation scientists $59,530
Environmental scientists and specialists, including health $64,670
Environmental science and protection technicians, including health $45,720
Geoscientists, except hydrologists and geographers $67,030
Hydrologists $75,680
Microbiologists $65,230

For more detailed information on science occupations in the environmental remediation industry, follow the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Next week's environmental remediation industry series installment: Engineering and Mapping Occupations.

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