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A materials technician is a person who determines, removes and disposes of harmful materials and substances. Other terms for this position include hazardous materials technician and hazardous materials removal worker. One of the most common hazardous materials that a technician may encounter is asbestos. This is a material abundantly used in the construction of buildings for most of the 20th century that possesses fibers that can cause a type of cancer called mesothelioma as well as a kind of inflammatory disease called asbestosis. Other hazardous materials that a materials technician may remove include lead, arsenic, mold, mercury, noxious gases, airborne particles, and nuclear and radioactive waste.
There are four factors that a materials technician must identify about a material to classify it as hazardous: does it easily catch fire, deteriorate, undergo chemical reaction, or become toxic. Any of these four characteristics can cause harm to public health. When inspecting buildings or structures, materials technicians themselves must use protective gear such as goggles or safety glasses, gloves, coveralls, helmets or hardhats, respirators or face shields, and chemical-resistant clothing. Tools used to remove the hazardous materials include scrapers, vacuums, water sprayers and sandblasters.
Several specializations exist in the materials technician field. There are workers who concentrate on the identification and disposal of asbestos. Others act as emergency and disaster response workers, cleaning up harmful particles or components at accident scenes. Decontamination workers specialize in the removal of radioactive and nuclear waste at nuclear facilities and power plants, as well as the decontamination of the entire affected area.
Becoming a materials technician usually does not require a formal education beyond a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED). There are certain government standards on the federal, state and local level that make on-the-job training a requirement. Those standards may vary, however, between governmental levels and specialization.
In the United States, aspiring materials technicians must have at least 40 hours of on-the-job training to be licensed. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the arm of the Department of Labor that creates and enforces standards relating to workplace safety, includes a training program for handling the most common hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates handling of nuclear waste. Other materials, such as mold, are left to the regulation power of state governments.
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