Hazmat removal workers typically do the following:
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.
Hazmat removal workers typically need a high school diploma.
Some states require workers to have permits or licenses for each type of hazardous waste they remove, particularly asbestos and lead. Workers who transport hazardous materials may need a state or federal permit.
License requirements vary by state, but candidates typically must meet the following criteria:
To maintain licensure, workers must take continuing education courses each year. For more information, check with the state’s licensing agency.
Some certifications, such as for HAZWOPER training, may be required. Others, such as Department of Transportation (DOT) hazmat transportation certification, are optional but may lead to more employment opportunities.