By Karen Angelo
A team of students wearing yellow hazmat suits steps toward a simulated abandoned factory. They unlock the door, peer inside a small room and set their eyes on tipped barrels and white crystals sprawled across the floor.
A label identifies the substance as sodium hydroxide, a toxic and corrosive chemical also known as lye. They spot an open window … and it’s raining.
The students know that when water and sodium hydroxide mix, a bubbling chemical reaction releases heat, which can ignite combustible materials. Using an air monitoring device, they measure levels of gases such as oxygen, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide. Once the students determine the area is safe, they enter the room and slowly sweep up the chemical.
This is one of the realistic emergency response drills in the Hazardous Waste Worker training class offered at The New England Consortium at UMass Lowell, the region's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response training organization. The class is offered to students at a discounted rate during winter break.
“Understanding the risks of toxic substances and environmental hazards during an emergency is critical to the health and safety of workers and the community,” says TNEC Training Manager David Coffey. “We offer the training to UML students to prepare them for jobs with corporations or public agencies that may require it.”
Five students majoring in geoscience, civil engineering, environmental science and meteorology wanted to get hazmat-certified to broaden their skills and give them an advantage in the job market.
“I believe that if employers see that I have completed this training ... they may be more inclined to hire me.”
-Sophomore meteorology major Ari Tickner
Michael Turner, a senior majoring in environmental science with a focus in management and finance, says that he took the hazmat course to make him stand out to potential employers.
“I decided to take the course to beef up my resume,” he says. “I’ve been job-searching pretty heavily the last few months and found that the majority of jobs that I’m interested in require this certification. So I’ll have a leg up in the hiring process. I can hit the ground running, and the company won’t have to spend the money for me to take the course.”
Hazmat certification is required for workers who handle, remove or ship hazardous materials. This includes careers in transportation and shipping, emergency rescue and firefighting, construction, mining, and waste treatment and disposal. Workers in manufacturing and warehouse storage who encounter hazardous materials may also need the training.
When geoscience major Ericka Bourdreau searched for a summer internship, most employers required the certification or listed it as a preferred qualification.
“I believe that this certification will strengthen my resume and give me an advantage when I search for jobs,” she says. “The hands-on experience with the equipment and chemical spill simulation was invaluable.” The New England Consortium’s courses meet or exceed U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for protecting hazardous waste workers and employees who respond to hazardous material emergencies in their workplaces.
Offered by TNEC at UMass Lowell since 1987, the 40-hour course covers topics such as chemical hazards, air monitoring, medical surveillance, respirators, protective clothing and site control in an emergency.
Sophomore meteorology major Ari Tickner took the course to have the option of pursuing a career in emergency management and response when he graduates.
“The training included a lot of hands-on work, with many group exercises that emphasized the importance of communication and the activities related to situations that occur in the field,” he says. “I believe that if employers see that I have completed this training and I keep doing the refresher to make sure my certification is up to date, they will know that I’m seriously interested in working in the field and may be more inclined to hire me.”
TNEC receives funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences through the national Superfund program, which pays for the cleanup of hazardous waste sites.