At a Glance
Imagine you are working beside a busy highway interchange, carefully collecting and replacing air quality sampling tubes from a small monitoring station. You are an environmental technician/technologist working for a small environmental consulting firm that has been recruited by the City to coordinate its new air quality monitoring program.
The program is designed to measure levels of air pollutants in different areas of the city and compare them to national air quality standards. Months ago, you and your team mapped and built a number of monitoring stations to effectively test problem areas. Now it is your responsibility to collect samples from these stations each week and make certain they are functioning properly.
As an environmental technician/technologist, you are often responsible for collecting and processing a variety of air, water, and soil samples. For this project, you collect air quality samples using diffusion tubes placed at each monitoring station: air enters the tubes and a chemical absorbent traps any pollutants present. Each week, you collect the old tubes for analysis and replace them with new ones.
Some monitoring stations are also outfitted with more advanced sampling equipment that uses filters to collect pollutants. Regulated volumes of air are pumped through specialized filters that trap pollutants for detection and analysis. As with the diffusion tubes, you must regularly collect the old filters and replace them with new ones.
Once you have collected the samples, you take them to the lab for analysis. You and your team of environmental professionals will evaluate the results and compare them to national standards, which will tell you if the city’s air quality levels are above or below legal limits. Finally, you will contribute to the preparation of a report summarizing your firm’s findings that will be presented to the City.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental technician/technologist:
- Gather air, water, and soil samples to determine the contamination level and assess environmental conditions.
- Perform chemical, physical, and biological tests on air, water, and soil samples and document results.
- Participate in and lead field investigations and inspections.
- Trace chemical, physical, and biological pathways of environmental pollutants.
- Review and process applications for environmental permits or certification, for example, waste disposal sites or water and wastewater treatment plants.
- Issue instructions for corrections necessary to comply with federal and provincial regulations.
- Explain and interpret regulations and procedures for environmental licensing applicants.
- Relate economic, health, political, and social issues to the management of environmental systems in both industrial and municipal applications.
- Design methodologies for environmental sampling and analysis.
- Implement quality control and quality assurance protocols for testing materials for conformity and compliance.
- Measure field characteristics, properties, and composition of soils, river channels, and biological systems.
- Prepare reports of findings for clients and supervisors.
Environmental technicians/technologists work in a variety of locations, including:
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
- Researching applicable regulations and compliance requirements
In the field:
- Collecting air, water, and soil samples
- Carrying out field analyses to determine environmental conditions
- Observing and inspecting sites
- Performing maintenance and repairing equipment
- Auditing and calibrating instrumentation
Where to Work
There are a number of places environmental technicians/technologists can find employment. They include:
- Environmental and engineering consulting firms
- Federal, provincial/territorial, or municipal government departments
- Colleges, universities, and research institutes
- Municipal and industrial treatment facilities
- Firms in other industries such as manufacturing, mining, forestry, and transportation
- Self-employed consultant
- Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations
Search for job opportunities for environmental technicians/technologists on the ECO Job Board.
Education and Skills
If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental technician/technologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
- Computer Science
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental technician/technologist is a college technical diploma. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental technician/technologist, the following programs are most applicable:
- Environmental Technology
- Environmental Science
- Environmental Engineering Technology
- Environmental Protection
Most environmental technicians/technologists are required to become certified as technicians or technologists through their provincial association. Requirements for certification vary among provinces.
Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with business skills. The ECO Academy can help you build the essential skills needed for a successful environmental career. Learn more
“I’m the kind of person who likes to feel he’s helping out, getting things cleaned up a bit,” says Brad Wynne of his job as an environmental engineering technician working for an environmental consulting firm based in Richmond, B.C. “I’ve always been interested in environmental issues. The more I looked at possible careers, the more this interested me. Now, after a couple of years in the field, I know I’ve made a great choice.”
Brad is also the kind of person who likes variety. “I like to do a lot of different things,” he says. “My main thing is fieldwork with water sampling, soil sampling, and compliance monitoring for our client companies. Then I write reports that go to the company or to the provincial government. Right now, I’m segregating soils and monitoring air contamination for workers at a particular site to make sure their working conditions are safe. ”
Much of Brad’s work takes place out-of-doors where his sampling skills are the most important. When he returns to the office, another set of skills comes into play. “I use computer programs to record and tabulate data. Modelling programs are particularly important. They give you a picture of what is happening – for instance, with groundwater – over a large geographical area.” “The great thing is that I’m never stuck in one thing for too long,” Brad says. “It’s just so variable. I could be doing something completely different next week.”