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Environmental Technicians

History

Stricter pollution control regulations of the mid-1960s to early 1970s created a job market for environmental technicians. As regulations on industry have become more stringent, the job has grown both in importance and in scope.

For centuries, the biosphere (the self-regulating "envelope" of air, water, and land in which all life on earth exists) was generally able to scatter, break down, or adapt to all the wastes and pollution produced by people. This began to change drastically with the Industrial Revolution. Beginning in England in the 1750s, the Industrial Revolution caused the shift from a farming society to an industrialized society. Although it had many economic benefits, industrialization took a terrible toll on the environment. Textile manufacturing and iron processing spread through England, and coal-powered mills, machines, and factories spewed heavy black smoke into the air. Rivers and lakes became open sewers as factories dumped their wastes. By the 19th century, areas with high population density and clusters of factories were experiencing markedly higher death and disease rates than areas with little industrial development.

The Industrial Revolution spread all over the world, including France in the 1830s; Germany in the 1850s; the United States after the Civil War; and Russia and Asia (especially Japan) at the turn of the century. Wherever industry took hold, there were warning signs that the biosphere could not handle the resulting pollution. Smoke and smog hung over large cities from their many factories. Residents experienced more respiratory and other health problems. Manufacturing wastes and untreated sewage poisoned surface waters and underground sources of water, affecting water supplies and increasing disease. Wastes and pollution also seeped into the soil, affecting crops.

After World War II, the development of new synthetic materials and their resulting waste products, including plastics, pesticides, and vehicle exhaust that are difficult to degrade (break down) worsened pollution problems. Fish and wildlife began to die because rivers and lakes were choked with chemicals and wastes. Scientists documented connections between pollution and birth defects, cancer, fertility problems, genetic damage, and many other serious problems.

Not until the mid-1960s to early 1970s did public outcry, environmental activism, and political and economic necessity force the passage of stricter pollution control laws. Federal environmental legislation mandated cleanups of existing air, water, and soil pollution, and began to limit the type and amount of polluting substances that industry could release into the environment. Manufacturers were required to operate within stricter guidelines for air emissions, wastewater treatment and disposal, and other polluting activities. States and municipalities also were given increasing responsibilities for monitoring and working to reduce levels of auto, industrial, and other pollution. Out of the need to meet these new requirements, the pollution control industry was born—and with it, the job of environmental technician.

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