Air Quality Technician/Technologist


As an air quality technician/technologist, you deal with all types of air pollution that can affect every aspect of our environment. Air quality technicians/technologists monitor, assess, and report on ambient air quality in both urban and rural areas, as well as air quality in environmental emergency situations such as fires or chemical spills. Air pollutants are often considered insidious because they can be harmful even when many people can’t see them and don’t know they are there. Your job is to measure air pollutants so that accurate assessments can be made with respect to the effects of the pollutants on humans and the environment.

At a glance

Imagine it is a crisp summer morning and you are riding shotgun in a small helicopter as it crests a forested ridge in the Rocky Mountains. In the distance, you see the smoke from a large forest fire burning out of control: that's where you are headed. You are an air quality technician/technologist and you have been dispatched to the area to collect air samples from around the burn and samples of the fire's smoke. This fire is far enough away from the nearest town that residents aren't being evacuated yet, but you are keeping a close eye on the town's air quality. If there is too much smoke in the air that it becomes harmful for the townspeople to breathe, they will need to be evacuated farther from the fire. As an air quality technician/technologist, you collect air samples that will be used to determine if the ambient air in the nearby town is still safe for residents to breathe. You have already assembled and calibrated several small aerometric monitoring stations at various places in and around the town. These sophisticated machines continuously measure the ambient air quality and transmit the data to scientists monitoring the situation, enabling them to decide if it is safe for the townspeople to stay in their homes. Now that these sampling stations are in place, you will check them periodically to make sure they are functioning properly. In the meantime, you will also deploy sampling equipment closer to the fire and collect samples of the smoke itself. This information will be helpful not only for the townspeople, but for the firefighters, so they know what kind of equipment they need. You collect the information that will keep everyone safe.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an air quality technician/technologist:
  • Observe, record, and report atmospheric and weather information to help track pollution.
  • Operate and calibrate monitoring equipment to measure air pollution and show how it is distributed throughout the atmosphere.
  • Assist in developing air quality measurement plans.
  • Maintain, repair, and audit air pollution and meteorological equipment.
  • Determine what type of sampling, measuring, or monitoring equipment will be used depending on what the pollutant is and its quantity and location.
  • Identify and carry out measurements of the sources of locally generated and upstream air pollution, for example measuring exhaust temperature, flow rates, and pressure.
  • Measure meteorological factors such as wind speed, wind direction, pressure, and humidity.
  • Coordinate efforts to ensure that emission levels comply with environmental regulations.
  • Respond to complaints or concerns about air quality from individuals in the community or workplace.
  • Ensure safety training has been completed and safety rules are followed.
  • Communicate both orally and through written reports results of studies, field experiments, or ongoing monitoring to peers, supervisors, committee members, and the public.
  • Ensure proper quality assurance/quality control procedures are performed on instrumentation, including maintenance and calibration.
  • Work with scientists to coordinate field experiments and studies in air quality.
  • Implement new air monitoring technology and participate on committees and working groups to establish standards for equipment and regulatory limits for air quality.

Work environment

Air quality technicians work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to: In the lab:
  • Testing samples
  • Performing maintenance and repairing equipment
In the office:
  • Doing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
  • Consulting operating manuals and researching new technology
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, government departments, and the public
In the field:
  • Testing air quality in factories, office buildings, schools, and residences
  • Testing air quality out of doors in urban, rural, or remote areas, as well as at spill sites or forest fires
  • Observing and inspecting sites
  • Performing maintenance and repairing equipment
  • Auditing and calibrating instrumentation

Where to work

There are a number of places where air quality technicians/technologists can find employment. They include:
  • Engineering consulting firms
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, or municipal government departments
  • Education and research institutes
  • Mapping and remote sensing companies
  • Companies that manufacture and/or sell pollution-control equipment, air-monitoring equipment, or meteorological instrumentation
  • Chemical, petrochemical, or utility companies

Education & requirements

In most cases the minimum education requirement to work as an air quality technician is a technical diploma. If you are considering a career as an air quality technician, the following post secondary programs are most applicable:
  • Environmental technology
  • Meteorology
  • Environmental studies
  • Geographic information systems
Air quality technicians require a great deal of knowledge of electronics and instrumentation. Technical courses in these fields are a good option for additional training. Although it is not necessary to become certified in order to work as an air quality technician, some practitioners choose to become certified. The requirements for this designation vary among provinces. If you are in high school and considering a career as an air quality technician, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Mathematics
  • Computer science

Role Model

Melissa Nadeau

Variety is certainly the spice of Melissa Nadeau’s life. The air quality technician says the best part of her job is the different responsibilities she faces on a daily basis. For Melissa, no day is the same. In the morning, she can be crawling through a shopping mall’s air ducts and in the afternoon removing poisonous asbestos from an office tower. "You definitely have to be on your toes…I have to be able to adapt easily to whatever comes my way.” A career in air quality wasn’t Melissa’s first choice, but while registering for university, she came across a brochure describing a new program—Environmental Studies. Ten years later, she’s glad she took the chance and completed her B.A. in the field. Today, Melissa is working for Jacques Whitford, a multi-dimensional, international environmental consulting firm. Even so, the learning continues, not only with on-the-job training but also in the classroom. Melissa has become a student again, taking courses in occupational hygiene and is working towards her Canadian Registered Safety Professional certification. Melissa’s varied responsibilities on the job have encouraged her to learn more about air quality and its related industries. "I’m taking the necessary steps to go where I want to be…I realize that to be better at my job, I need to know more.” Working as an air quality technician means you have to work well with others. Regardless of what project she’s working on, Melissa is constantly consulting with engineers within her office and other environmental professionals in the industry. "I love interacting with others…I love being able to feed off of each other’s energy and knowledge.” One challenge Melissa faces is balancing her responsibilities given the sometimes unexpected nature of her work. "If I’ve given a client a deadline of Wednesday for my work, but a flood happens on Tuesday…I still have to make that Wednesday deadline.” But it’s exactly this kind of challenge that makes Melissa’s job so interesting.