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Opportunities in Hazardous Waste Removal

Few kids dream of working in hazardous waste removal. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. And the industry is hoping more kids will want to.

While hardly glamorous, waste removal is a steadily growing field.

Louis Centofanti is chairman and chief executive officer of a waste treatment and removal company in Florida. He agrees that the industry is expanding. "Continuing waste minimization, particularly cleanup of air and water emissions, is a growing field," he says.

What is hazardous waste removal? Basically, it's the removal of hazards within the environment. That could be anything in solid or liquid form containing any number of chemical elements.

Hazardous waste is usually associated with chemical and manufacturing companies. However, it's much more expansive than that, says Rob Wlezien. He is vice-president of sales and marketing for a waste removal company in Illinois.

"Most industrial processes make use of or produce hazardous materials at some point in their production of goods," he says.

"This is true of pharmaceutical companies, food companies, as well as the ones you might more readily expect -- chemical, high-tech and general manufacturing companies."

The Environmental Protection Agency and the state agencies define what dangerous materials are. The Department of Transportation mandates how these materials travel, and in what containers. Regulations require each material to be packaged, tracked and treated in specific ways.

That's determined by what kind of waste you're disposing of, Centofanti explains. For instance, liquid waste can't go into a landfill. It has to be treated somehow before being disposed.

Other waste that might need treatment includes that which contains potentially harmful chemicals, such as chlorinated chemicals.

"Using a variety of processes, [we] will separate the materials for incineration, burial or even reuse in the case of oil or discarded tires, which can be recycled and resold as fuel," Centofanti says.

Incineration is often not an option, he says. It can pollute the environment and may not be legal.

Obviously, safety is a concern in this field.

"As in other fields, mistakes are made only when you stop worrying," says Wlezien.

"While the obvious and worst risks have to do with chemical exposures, inhalations, etc., what few accidents we do have tend to be of the back-strain, pinched finger variety."

Centofanti agrees that there are risks in the business. "If you don't properly protect yourself, there are hazards such as chemical exposure or typical construction-related hazards," he says. Most companies rely on suits, hardhats and the like to keep workers safe.

Those wishing to get into the industry generally must have about 40 hours of training, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wlezien says his company tries to hire those with college degrees when possible. But the most important quality workers must have is knowledge of the regulations and methods for safely handling hazardous waste. In addition, the company has weekly training sessions for employees.

Pay varies depending on training and duties. For instance, employees at Centofanti's company who are involved with the more physical aspects of the process are paid more. Wlezien says that at his company, pay increases as the employee completes each level of training on the job.

But despite rosy predictions by many in the waste removal business, Wlezien is somewhat skeptical. "The market is steadily shrinking, a couple of percent per year, for at least two reasons," he says.

"First, less waste is being generated....Additionally, political pressures to increase exemptions and reduce regulation [in the U.S.] have had a measurable impact."

However, many are optimistic about the field. "I see a tremendously challenging and exciting future for this industry," says Andrew Crowe. He is vice-president of operations for an environmental services company.


Hazardous Waste Cleanup Information
Learn more from the Environmental Protection Agency

Safety and Health Topics: Hazardous Waste
Read what the U.S. Department of Labor has to say

Hazardous Waste in the Home
Find out how much you know about the products in your house

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