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An Introduction to the Divers of the EPA - Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for safeguarding our nationís air, land and waterways.

Safeguarding the waterways means diving in headfirst to assess water quality. Since the agencyís inception in 1970, the EPA has maintained a scientific diving program. The first diving teams were based in Seattle and Gulf Breeze, Florida, to support EPA research, environmental monitoring and emergency response efforts. 

Today, the EPAís diving program operates out of nine offices across the country and conducts hundreds of scientific missions annually. In fact, each of the nine teams of EPA divers averages over 100 logged missions each year in all varieties of aquatic habitats, from freshwater lakes, rivers, and quarries to brackish estuaries and the salty waters of the open ocean.

The responsibilities of EPA divers are eclectic, ranging from monitoring the health of fragile underwater ecosystems like sea grass, coral reefs, and kelp forests, to inspecting the contents of waste discharge from seafood processing plants and mapping illegal dumping sites.

In addition to the Scientific Dive Unit, the EPA boasts of an Environmental Response Dive Team specifically trained for missions in polluted waters. Members of this unit are tasked with conducting the scientific duties of normal EPA divers (such as data collection and research). However, they have to do their work in potentially hazardous conditions, such as at the sites of oil spills. Ultimately, this division helps the EPA advance cleanup operations in American waterways by gathering information on environmental health that canít be obtained from the remote safety of the deck of a research vessel.

Though EPA divers operate and support primarily within EPA programs, this doesnít restrict them from working outside of the agency. The EPA has reciprocity agreements with other government agencies at the federal and state level (such as the U.S. Geological Survey and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries), as well as with universities and private-sector businesses (such as the University of Washington and the Oregon Coast Aquarium).

Diving isnít the only part of the job, however. EPA divers are permanent EPA employees from across the agency and arenít hired specifically for their diving work. Though most divers are trained in fields such as oceanography and marine ecology, the program employs divers with a wide spectrum of backgrounds and experience.

For those looking to become part of this program, there are a few prerequisites. Physical fitness, swimming ability, experience with field surveys, SCUBA certification and relevance to their current job are all factors considered when accepting new EPA divers. Once accepted, new hires receive rigorous training that includes diving in polluted water and underwater science to better prepare them for work in the field.

If this job sounds appealing to you, youíll need your thinking hat on as well as your diving helmet. A background in a scientific discipline or engineering, in addition to experience as a professional diver, helps your odds at earning a position in this specialized department.


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