What Does an Environmental Technician Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Bailey Mariner © The Balance 2019

Environmental technicians typically work under the direction of environmental scientists. They monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution by performing laboratory and field tests. They might be part of a team that includes scientists, engineers, and technicians from other disciplines, working together to solve complex environmental problems that affect public health.

An environmental technician is sometimes referred to as an environmental science and protection technician. About 17,000 environmental technicians worked in the U.S. in 2016. About one in four of them worked in consulting services.

Environmental Technician Duties & Responsibilities

An environmental technician's daily duties generally include the following tasks:

  • Collect water samples from raw, semi-processed, or processed water, industrial wastewater, or water from other sources to assess pollution problems.
  • Perform project monitoring and air sampling for asbestos, lead, and mold abatement projects.
  • Install and maintain data collection instrumentation.
  • Conduct bacteriological or other tests related to research in environmental or pollution control activity.
  • Operate light and heavy equipment including, but not limited to, pumps, vacuum, equipment, oil spill boom, generators, and bobcats.
  • Perform basic calculations and computer data entry.
  • Prepare and maintain necessary reports and records as required.
  • Set up equipment or stations to monitor and collect pollutants from sites, such as smoke stacks, manufacturing plants, or mechanical equipment.

Beginning environmental technicians work under the direct supervision of an environmental scientist or a more senior technician. With experience, they'll receive only general supervision and can eventually supervise those with less experience.

Environmental Technician Salary

The most highly compensated environmental technicians work for the government.

  • Median Annual Salary: $50,560 ($24,31/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $82,800 ($39.81/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $32,380 ($15.57/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training & Certification

This position requires some education and training.

Specialized training in the field can sometimes substitute for an associate degree, but you'll need two years or more.

Environmental Technician Skills & Competencies

In addition to a license and formal training, an environmental technician needs certain soft skills, or personal qualities, to succeed in this occupation.

  • Reading comprehension skills: You must have excellent reading comprehension skills in order to understand work-related documents.
  • Critical thinking skills: These will allow you to weigh possible solutions to problems.
  • Communication skills: You'll most likely be working as a member of a team, so possessing strong listening, speaking, writing skills, and interpersonal skills is critical. You must convey information factually and clearly to the engineer or team leader when you can't resolve issues yourself.
  • Observational skills: You must be able to recognize and identify potential problems without delay.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for environmental technicians is excellent. Employment is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations from 2016 through 2026, by about 13%.

Work Environment

Most environmental technicians work for consulting firms, local and state governments, and testing laboratories. They work in offices and laboratories, but they might also do fieldwork, which involves taking soil samples or water samples from rivers, lakes, and streams.

Work Schedule

Most jobs in this field are full time, but those that involve fieldwork can include irregular hours. Some jobs, particularly ones that rely on warmer weather for collecting samples from bodies of water or soil that isn't frozen, might be seasonal in regions with colder climates.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: 

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018