Remediation Specialist


Environmental remediation is the treatment and removal of contamination from soil, groundwater, and other media. Remediation specialists design and implement remedial action plans to clean up sites affected by substances such as automotive fuels, pesticides, and heavy metals. They select the most appropriate remedial techniques or processes for each project while adhering to federal and provincial environmental regulations. Remediation specialists may also work in conjunction with site assessors to determine the extent and type of contamination present at disturbed sites.

Forester in pine thicket that has had the undergrowth burned.

At a glance

Imagine you are standing in an old farmyard, surrounded by empty, run-down buildings, dead trees, and patches of bare soil. You are a remediation specialist and this is the site of your next project. Forty years ago, the farm's owner retired and sold the land to a nearby chemical company that began using it as an illegal dump and burn site. When the company went out of business, the Province investigated the site and discovered dangerous levels of soil and water pollution. Since then, the Province has declared the farm an abandoned hazardous waste site and hired your firm to clean it up.

As a remediation specialist, you focus on cleaning up toxic sites and removing contaminants from soil and groundwater. For this project, you will work with a team of environmental geologists, hydrologists, and toxicologists to develop a remedial action plan for the site. You start by investigating which methods and technologies will work well for this particular site and how they can be incorporated into the plan.

Next, you develop interim remediation measures, including removing the contamination source. You will excavate more than 500 tonnes of impacted soil for off-site disposal at a hazardous waste landfill. To verify you have dug deep enough and far enough, you will test samples from the side walls and floor of the excavation for remaining contaminants before the pit is filled.

You will also develop a program to assess groundwater quality in the area using existing monitoring wells to collect samples for laboratory analysis. Once the interim cleanup is complete, you'll implement long-term measures for revegetation and water quality monitoring. It may take years, but your remedial action plan will direct cleanup and return this site to its former state.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a remediation specialist:

  • Administer and conduct activities for remediation projects.
  • Assess and evaluate soil, groundwater, sediment, and surface water site data.
  • Select, design, install, test, and evaluate remediation systems.
  • Supervise contractors, subcontractors, and field personnel.
  • Conduct verification sampling to assess the progress of site cleanups.
  • Prepare proposals and write remediation reports confirming the work done and that project objectives have been met.
  • Manage contracts and budgets for remediation projects.
  • Give presentations to clients, regulators, and the public.

Work environment

Remediation specialists work in a variety of locations, including:

In the office:

  • Doing paperwork, analyzing data, and preparing reports
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, stakeholders, and government departments, and presenting remedial action plans and recommendations to clients
  • Developing remediation models and plans, including preparing environmental applications, generating contracts, and managing budgets
  • Researching remediation techniques and consulting with other remediation specialists and professionals

In the field:

  • Touring and inspecting sites
  • Selecting installation locations and overseeing start-ups, operation, and decommissioning of structures and equipment
  • Supervising contractors and field personnel

Where to work

There are a number of places remediation specialists can find employment. They include:

  • Environmental and engineering consulting firms
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Colleges, universities, and research institutes
  • Waste management firms
  • Firms in other industries, for example oil and gas, mining, and forestry
  • Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as a remediation specialist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • English

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a remediation specialist is a university undergraduate degree.

If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a remediation specialist, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Environmental Science
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Earth Sciences
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Geological Engineering
  • Soil Science
  • Hydrogeology
  • Chemistry

There is no certification available that is specific to remediation specialists, though many remediation specialists choose to be certified as professional engineers, geoscientists, biologists, agrologists, technicians, or environmental practitioners.

Salary

Remediation specialists often make between $60,000 and $90,000 per year in Canada.

Role Model

Michael Rowley

I am concerned about our planet and enjoy and appreciate the outdoors. I started in this field with a B.Sc. in Biology and after initially doing some work as a technician, I set up my own business with a partner. We were one of the first companies to focus on the environmental industry and address the issues of mine drainage as well as metal recovery from incinerator ash. In Canada, this work is done by small to medium-sized technical consulting companies who have developed new technologies to solve specific environmental problems. My twelve years in this industry make me one of the most experienced people who do this type of work.

I have gained my experience by managing projects. I have been fortunate to work on large-scale projects where my company was required to invent a new process and then put that process into play to solve a problem. We have also patented and subsequently sold a process to reclaim copper and zinc from acid mine drainage. We are taking a leadership role in this type of technology. I have been recognized for my efforts by my peers, through newspaper coverage of our successes in the industry and by invitations to lecture and provide technical papers.

There is new and relevant information available although it is sometimes hard to find. I belong to societies and rely on my network of contacts to keep me informed. I also read scientific literature reviews, trade publications, business sections in newspapers and Internet sites for current environmental topics. When time allows I take courses to keep my skills current in first aid and emergency techniques.

The environmental sector is definitely a growth area due to increasingly stringent regulations on industry. There is great potential for increases in salary as new projects and initiatives are developed. I see growth within my own company and expect to provide a leadership role in ash processing. Our company processes ash from municipal incinerators using the newest technology available. The metals we recover can be reused and provide a recycling advantage instead of a landfill problem.

When you manage your own business it is sometimes difficult to stay focused during times of limited funds and fewer projects. My advice is to be tenacious. Stick with it and the rewards will come. Remember that you are selling new technology and it takes time for it to get established. There are many large companies that need this type of service but it can take time to convince them. Research the environmental issue well and keep your costs low between projects.

My day consists of a number of diverse duties. I may be searching for new investment funding, researching potential new projects, attending meetings with shareholders or colleagues, maintaining records and writing reports. I spend about thirty hours per week in the office with an additional ten hours per week shared between external meetings and on-site work. I rely not only on my highly developed technical skills but also on my written and verbal skills to communicate ideas to staff, project engineers and government personnel.

It is personally rewarding to accomplish something on your own. When the project is your idea and your technology the sense of accomplishment is even greater. My company has taken a leadership role in developing technologies for remediation by metal recovery. In a holistic way, I am trying to lessen the footprint of our civilization on the planet. My contribution may be small but it is something I can feel good about.