Hazardous Materials Removal Worker

Abatement Worker, Asbestos Abatement Worker, Asbestos Coverer, Asbestos Handler   More Names
Asbestos Hazard Abatement Worker, Asbestos Remover, Asbestos Worker, Decontamination / Decommissioning Operator (D & D Operator), Decontamination Worker, Field Technician, Hazard Waste Handler, Hazardous Material Specialist, Hazardous Materials Driver (Hazmat Driver), Hazardous Materials Handler, Hazardous Materials Tanker Driver (Hazmat Tanker Driver), Hazardous Waste Remover, Hazmat Technician (Hazardous Materials Technician), Irradiated Fuel Handler, Junk Removal Specialist, Material Handling Technician, Material Specialist, Radiological Control and Safety Technician, Restoration Technician, Site Worker, Team Driver, Waste Disposal Attendant, Waste Handling Technician

Increased public awareness and Federal and State regulations require the removal of hazardous materials from buildings, facilities and the environment to avoid further contamination of natural resources and to promote public health and safety. Hazardous materials removal workers identify, remove, package, transport and dispose of various hazardous materials, including asbestos, lead, and radioactive and nuclear materials. The removal of hazardous materials, or "hazmats," from public places and the environment is also called abatement, remediation and decontamination.

Hazardous materials removal workers use a variety of tools and equipment, depending on the work at hand. Equipment ranges from brooms to personal protective suits that are totally contained to avoid exposure. Depending on the threat of contamination, equipment required can include disposable or reusable coveralls, gloves, hard hats, shoe covers, safety glasses or goggles, chemical resistant clothing, face shields and hearing protection. Most workers are also required to wear respirators while working to protect them from airborne particles. These respirators range from simple versions that cover only the mouth and nose to self-contained suits with their own oxygen supply.

Asbestos is a material used in the past for fireproofing roofing, flooring and heat insulation and a variety of other uses. While materials containing asbestos are rarely used in buildings anymore, there are still structures containing the material. Fairly harmless when imbedded in materials, asbestos, when airborne, can cause several lung diseases, including lung cancer and asbestosis.

Lead was a common building component found in paint and plumbing fixtures and pipes until the late 1970’s. Because lead is easily absorbed into the bloodstream, it can travel to vital organs and build up there. The health risks associated with lead poisoning include fatigue, loss of appetite, miscarriage, and learning disabilities and decreased IQ in children. Due to these risks, it has become necessary to remove lead-based products and asbestos from buildings and structures.

Asbestos abatement and lead abatement workers remove these and other materials from buildings scheduled to be renovated or demolished. They use a variety of hand and power tools, such as vacuums and scrapers, to remove asbestos and lead from surfaces. The vacuums used by asbestos abatement workers have special, highly efficient filters designed to trap the asbestos, which is later disposed of or stored. During the abatement, special monitors for asbestos and lead content sample the air to protect the workers; lead abatement workers also wear a personal air monitor that indicates how much lead the worker has been exposed to. Workers also use monitoring devices to identify the asbestos, lead and other materials that need to be removed from the surfaces of walls and structures.

A typical residential lead abatement project involves using a chemical to strip the lead-based paint from the walls of the home. Lead abatement workers apply the compound with a putty knife and allow it to dry. Then they scrape the hazardous material into an impregnable container for transport and storage. They also use sandblasters and high-pressure water sprayers to remove lead from large structures.

Radioactive materials are classified as either high- or low-level wastes. High-level wastes primarily are nuclear reactor fuels used to produce electricity. Low-level wastes include any radioactively contaminated protective clothing, tools, filters, medical equipment, and other items.Decontamination technicians perform duties similar to janitors and cleaners. They use brooms, mops and other tools to clean exposed areas and remove exposed items for decontamination or disposal. With experience these workers can advance to radiation protection technician jobs and use radiation survey meters to locate and evaluate materials, operate high pressure cleaning equipment for decontamination, and package radioactive materials for transportation or disposal.

Decommissioning and decontamination (D&D) workers remove and treat radioactive materials generated by nuclear facilities and power plants. They use a variety of hand-tools to break down contaminated items such as "gloveboxes," which are used to process radioactive materials. At decommissioning sites the workers clean and decontaminate the facility, as well as remove any radioactive or contaminated materials.

Treatment, storage and disposal (TSD) workers transport and prepare materials for treatment or disposal. To insure proper treatment of materials, laws require workers in this field be able to verify shipping manifests. At incinerator facilities, these workers transport materials from the customer or service center to the incinerator. At landfills, they follow a strict procedure for the processing and storage of hazardous materials. They organize and track the location of items in the fill and may help change the state of a material from liquid to solid in preparation for its storage. These workers typically operate heavy machinery such as forklifts, earth moving machinery and large trucks and rigs.

Hazardous materials removal workers, whether working in asbestos and lead abatement or in radioactive decontamination, must stand, stoop and kneel for long periods of time. Workers may also be required to construct scaffolding or erect containment areas prior to the abatement or decontamination. Government regulation, in most cases, dictates that hazardous materials removal workers are closely supervised on the work site. The standard is usually one supervisor to every 10 workers. The work is very structured, planned out sometimes years in advance and team oriented. There is a great deal of cooperation among supervisors and coworkers. Due to the nature of the materials being removed, work areas are restricted to licensed hazardous materials removal workers, minimizing exposure to the public.

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Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
7% - Slower than average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $32,250 - $56,210    Hourly: $16 - $27
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

Hazmat removal workers function in a highly structured environment to minimize the danger they face. This concern for safety keeps occupational injuries below the national average. Each phase of an operation is planned in advance, and workers are trained to deal with hazardous situations. Crews and supervisors take every safety measure to ensure that the worksite is safe.

No matter the material being cleaned, hazmat workers must often stand for long periods. To reduce their exposure to harmful materials, workers often wear coveralls, gloves, shoe covers, safety glasses, or goggles. Some must wear fully enclosed protective suits for several hours at a time; these suits may be hot and uncomfortable and may cause the workers who wear them to experience claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces).

In extremely toxic cleanups, hazmat workers are required to wear respirators to protect themselves from airborne particles or noxious gases. Lead abatement workers wear a personal air monitor that measures the amount of lead to which the worker has been exposed.

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Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Less than High School
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Percent Job Growth:

7% - Slower than average
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Typical Wages:

Annual: $32,250 - $56,210

Hourly: $16 - $27