Wednesday, October 2, 2013

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

This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series describes construction and material-moving occupations in environmental remediation.

Construction and Material-moving Occupations

Construction and material-moving workers operate the machinery that is used onsite in a remediation project. These workers might be exposed to contaminants and might be required to wear safety gear such as chemical protective suits and breathing apparatus.

Job Duties

Construction laborers do many of the basic tasks on remediation sites. These workers do physically demanding work, such as removing debris and possible hazards, loading and unloading materials, digging trenches, and operating machinery. They are used when there is no danger of exposure to dangerous chemicals or when the site has been made safe for them to work.

Dredge operators excavate waterways. They remove sand, gravel, or rock from bodies of water that have become contaminated. They might operate from land-based dredges or those mounted on barges or ships to remove material that is then either disposed of or treated to remove hazardous materials.

Earth drillers operate machinery that is used to drill into the earth. Because many remediation techniques involve drilling deep into the ground to remove pollution in the groundwater or below the top layers of soil, drills are used to reach the deep layers of rock and sediment underground. Drillers are needed for pump-and-treat techniques and are used occasionally for other techniques when the pollution has seeped deep underground.

Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators use machines equipped with scoops or shovels. They dig sand, earth, or other materials and load them onto conveyors or trucks for treatment or transport to disposal sites.

Hazardous materials removal workers identify and dispose of materials that are flammable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic. They are responsible for cleaning up sites that are severely contaminated and must be made safe for other workers to enter. They might deal with sites that have chemical, biological, or even radioactive waste and must wear special suits and respirators to keep them safe from these materials. They must be familiar with the procedures for handling and disposing of certain types of hazardous waste.

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators drive, maneuver, or control the heavy machinery used in remediation projects. They work with one or several types of power construction equipment and might operate excavation and loading machines equipped with scoops, shovels, or buckets that dig sand, earth, gravel, or similar materials.

Education and Training

These construction and material-moving workers require on-the-job training to become competent in their occupations. Construction laborers and dredge operators generally undergo on-the-job training that lasts one month or less and do not need formal education. Excavating and loading machine operators also do not need formal education, but typically have prior work experience as construction laborers or construction equipment operators. They typically undergo moderate-term on-the-job training that can last between one month and one year. Equipment operators and earth drillers typically have a high school diploma or equivalent and also require moderate-term on-the-job training.

Hazardous materials removal workers typically enter the occupation with a high school diploma or the equivalent and are required by the federal government to complete formal training programs, such as an OSHA-certified HAZWOPER training course that lasts approximately 40 hours. They also need to be trained in the proper handling and disposal of hazardous materials and in any safety equipment they might be required to use, such as respirators or self-contained breathing apparatus.


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 construction and material-moving 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
Construction laborers $34,600
Dredge operators, except oil and gas $33,530
Earth drillers $44,550
Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators $38,860
Hazardous materials removal workers $37,440
Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators $38,910

For more detailed information on construction and material-moving occupations in the environmental remediation industry, follow the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Next week's environmental remediation industry series installment: Management and Business Specialist Occupations.

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