At a Glance
Imagine it is 10 degrees below zero outside and the wind is gusting as you prepare to climb 50 metres up a towering stack. You are a pollution control technologist and today you are gathering samples from a large chemical manufacturing plant. The plant is undergoing its annual environmental review, which evaluates its processes and equipment to ensure it is operating in compliance with applicable regulations.
As part of the review team, you will collect emission samples from the plant's three stacks, water samples from its treated effluent, and soil samples from various places on-site for testing to make certain pollutant levels fall below acceptable limits.
As a pollution control technologist, you focus on the importance of careful monitoring and testing to ensure harmful chemicals are kept from entering the environment. In the case of this manufacturing plant, the processes used to manufacture its products generate a number of potentially harmful substances. In order to be licensed to operate, the plant must install equipment and implement measures to control these substances so they aren't released into the air or discharged into the river. You and your review team are here to ensure these measures are doing their job. You have had special training in stack testing, which is why you're the person being sent up the stack to draw a sample of its exhaust. If the stack's scrubbers are functioning properly, they will remove nearly all the nitrogen and sulphur compounds from the exhaust, and the sample will come back within acceptable limits.
Once you are done with the stack, you will take grab samples of the plant's treated effluent to confirm that clarifiers and settling tanks are adequately treating the water before it is discharged. You'll also take soil samples to ensure that chemical storage and handling procedures are being followed and leaks and spills are cleaned up properly. All these samples will be taken to the lab for analysis and the results used to evaluate the performance of the plant's pollution control measures.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a pollution control technologist:
- Conduct field tests to determine environmental conditions and possible pollutant levels.
- Collect air, water, and soil samples according to the sampling protocol.
- Participate in environmental audits for air, water, and solid waste management.
- Install, operate, and maintain pollution control and monitoring equipment.
- Operate fixed or mobile monitoring and data collection stations.
- Interpret sample analyses and field information and evaluate results.
- Prepare reports and present results to clients and colleagues.
Pollution control technologists work in a variety of locations, including:
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
- Observing and inspecting sites
- Performing maintenance and repairing equipment
- Auditing and calibrating instrumentation
- Monitoring sensitive ecological receptors and their habitat
Where to Work
There are a number of places pollution control technologists can find employment. They include:
- Environmental and engineering consulting firms
- Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
- Colleges, universities, and research institutes
- Municipal and industrial treatment facilities
- Waste management firms
- Firms in other industries, for example, manufacturing, mining, forestry, and transportation
- Self-employed consultant
- Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations
Education and Skills
If you are a high school student considering a career as a pollution control technologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a pollution control technologist is a college technical diploma. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a pollution control technologist, the following programs are most applicable:
- Environmental Technology
- Environmental Science
- Environmental Engineering Technology
- Environmental Earth Science
Certification is not mandatory in order to work as a pollution control technologist, though some practitioners choose to become certified technologists through their provincial association. Requirements for certification vary among provinces.
In high school and university I was involved with environmental issues through student groups. Shortly after university, I got a job as a technologist and it included a focus on the environment. The main focus of my work was the development of new techniques to improve production and minimize environmental impacts. The position lasted ten years and was the beginning of my career in pollution control. I continued to build experience in the field of pollution control with a position as a Laboratory Technician for the local region. Most of my duties involved sampling and analysis of drinking water. I left this position for my present job as a Pollution Abatement Field Officer for a large urban centre.
Along the way, I have gathered valuable insight from courses at local colleges and organizations. During my twelve years in pollution control I have taken training in occupational health and safety, spills to sanitary sewers, industrial unit processes, sampling and monitoring, trenching and shoring and environmental law. I have also attained my Class 2 Environmental License certification from the Ministry of the Environment. This program gives a level of competence in our field. Learning is life long and the best way to stay on top of new techniques in this area is to interact with other experts to solve problems.
One of my major activities is the rapid response to toxic spills in an urban environment. It’s exciting to work and you can learn a great deal from each spill response. Besides taking courses I regularly attend several conferences each year to see the new equipment and hear the latest techniques for pollution control. Environmental compliance is becoming a cost of doing business. This will result in more companies hiring pollution control technologists to help align the best management practices of the company with the environmental regulations. Future employment opportunities are very good for people who have a degree in chemistry and are able to work in emergency situations.
Employment can be found with environmental, spill response and engineering companies as well as the government. If you are looking for a fast-paced, exciting career, this is it. The work is similar to fire fighting and it can be physically demanding. We respond to all types of spills including chemical fires because the wastewater from the fire hoses has to be controlled so that it does not enter the sewer system or the natural environment. There will always be a need for this type of work so consider joining the pollution control profession. When I am not responding to emergency environmental situations I spend my office time on the computer and interacting with the other people in my department.
Negotiating and interpersonal skills are important to establishing a good working relationship with other professionals, colleagues, politicians and the public. My daily activities often include monitoring for environmental compliance, enforcement of the sewer use bylaw, correspondence regarding environmental issues, agreement negotiations and emergency response. I normally work a regular eight-hour day though I am on a twenty-four-hour emergency call. It’s not only expensive to clean up a spill it’s also damaging to the environment. You need to respond quickly and know what to do for each situation.
Often this can only be learned through years of experience. My contribution to the environment is the knowledge I have accumulated in this area and the emphasis I place on mentoring others. As I move into more of a management role in the future the expertise I have to share will make a positive impact on pollution control.