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How to Become an Environmental Site Assessor: Career Guide

Research the requirements to become an environmental site assessor. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in environmental site assessment.

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Do I Want to Be an Environmental Site Assessor?

Environmental site assessors may also be referred to as environmental professionals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These professionals investigate and report on a site's actual and potential hazards. This often gives them the chance to travel to visit a variety of sites, ranging from lakes and streams to manufacturing facilities to private residences. Since some of these sites might be outdoors, they might have to work in all kinds of weather but also will likely spend time in climate-controlled laboratories.

Job Requirements

Environmental professionals need to possess a strong body of knowledge about hazardous substances as well as other environmental contaminants. An individual may work in this field with a combination of education, typically a bachelor's degree, as well as experience. The following table provides information on how to become an environmental professional:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree*
Degree Field Environmental science, related engineering discipline or similar field*
Certification Asbestos certification may be preferred by some employers*; voluntary professional certification is available***
Experience Varies, related experience is required*; 3-10 years of relevant experience is necessary for some EPA professionals**
Key Skills Excellent written and verbal communication, organizational and reporting skills*
Technical Skills Knowledge of specific policies, regulations and procedures related to environmental safety*
Additional Requirements Valid driver's license*

Sources: *Job listings from employers (December 2012), **The Environmental Protection Agency, ***The Academy of Board Certified Environmental Professionals.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most entry-level positions require a bachelor's degree in environmental science or a related engineering discipline. Coursework in these programs generally covers air quality, ecology, environmental change and hydrology. Students may also choose to major in environmental management, which focuses on toxicology, hazardous waste and air pollution, as well as environmental regulations and risk assessment.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Experience in this industry can be just as important as formal education. Entry-level positions, like those of environmental science or protection technicians, can help individuals gain experience in using geographic information systems (GIS), reviewing records and completing written reports based on their findings.

Success Tip:

  • Obtain letters of recommendation. For professionals who want to become certified by the Academy of Board Certified Environmental Professionals (ABCEP), letters of recommendation from employers or peers are necessary.

Step 3: Earn a Master's Degree

While a master's degree isn't required in order to work in this field, completing a graduate program may increase career opportunities. Some colleges and universities offer programs specifically for environmental professionals in areas like river restoration, soil bioengineering practices, wetland delineation and environmental regulations and compliance. Master's-level topics can include environmental stressors, risk and exposure assessment, geographic information systems and global policies.

Step 4: Become Professionally Certified

While it's not always necessary, certification is preferred for some environmental assessment positions. For example, employers may look for site assessors who have asbestos certification, according to job postings from December 2012.

In addition, all environmental investigations conducted under the EPA's Brownfields Program must be led by a qualified environmental professional. The Brownfields Program fosters the redevelopment of possibly contaminated land by offering grants to local and state agencies, as well as community groups.

Qualified environmental professionals who investigate brownfields must have an engineering or geology license and at least three years of experience. Alternatively, these professionals can have a relevant bachelor's degree and at least five years of experience. It's important to note that unqualified personnel are still permitted to work under the supervision of qualified environmental professionals.

In addition, voluntary certification is available. The ABCEP offers the Certified Environmental Professional credential with specialties in five areas, including environmental assessment, environmental documentation and environmental planning. Certification requirements include a bachelor's degree and at least nine years of relevant experience. A master's degree may be substituted for one experiential year.

Step 5: Work as an Environmental Site Professional

Environmental compliance specialists or site assessors often work for government agencies and environmental companies. Professionals may be required to travel to sites and work with teams to survey the environment.

Success Tip:

  • Complete continuing education. Some site assessors must renew certifications by taking continuing education classes. For example, professionals who hold state asbestos certification are often required to take an annual refresher course.
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