Hazardous Waste Cleanup Jobs

Hazardous waste workers label dangerous materials properly.
i Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Picking up and dumping trash may not be the most fun chore but it’s a job almost anybody can do because it needs little formal education beyond high school. If the waste you’re cleaning up can hurt you because it’s poisonous or radioactive, you need the smarts to know what you’re doing and the training to do it right. You’ll get the right skills by working in one of the hazardous waste cleanup jobs.


Two examples of nasty materials include lead, which poisons kids who get it in their bodies, and asbestos fibers, which damage your lungs. Lead was once used to make paint brighter and more waterproof, while asbestos kept building materials safe from fire. To get rid of these killers from homes and businesses, asbestos and lead abatement workers use special techniques and waste containers. Another example of hazardous material is nuclear waste. Radioactivity is great for producing tons of power and treating cancer but it can mess up your cells and genes. Decommissioning and decontamination technicians clean up nuclear facilities, remove radioactive bits and store the hazards far away from people.


Hazardous waste work changes depending on what you’re dealing with, although all cleanup jobs have some things in common. You start by checking out what kind of waste is doing what where. You then come up with the best ways to remove the bad stuff. In most cases, the people who live or work in the area have to go to their jobs, so a lot of your work is in the evenings and weekends. You can then seal off the dangerous area and go in only by wearing protective garb, such as goggles, body suits and gloves. Using your own two hands or fancy machines, you pick up the waste it and lock it in special containers. You have to write down everything you do, so government sleuths make sure you’re keeping up with all cleanup rules.


All you need to enter the field of hazardous waste cleanup is a high-school diploma. Your employer then teaches you all you need to know with at least 40 hours of classes given the green light by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Workers who perform some tasks, such as keeping dangerous items locked up tight and away from people, need a federal license. This document also means 40-hours of OSHA training. If you’re interested in radioactivity, brace yourself for longer training. Your OSHA classes must add topics from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which can take about three months to complete.

Women and Hazardous Waste Cleanup

Maybe women don’t like the “danger” suggested by the titles of hazardous waste jobs. Or maybe they’re worried about how all the toxins and nuclear risk can affect pregnancy and childbirth. Whatever the reason, the field is still a boys’ club, even though many agencies are trying to change that. Their main tactic: Make the jobs part of green work to appeal to women’s concerns for protecting the environment. Examples of such programs include Sustainable South Bronx, which shows women how to clean up hazardous waste and design green roofs; and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, which trains women as fighters against lead and asbestos.

the nest