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Sustainability alum takes the 'hazard' out of 'hazardous waste'
Waste. Can’t live without it, and you certainly can’t live with it. So what do you do with it? And more importantly, what about the nasty, hazardous waste?
Bradley Baker, a native of Ahwatukee, is a hazardous waste compliance officer at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) Waste Programs Division. He is responsible for keeping businesses and facilities up-to-date in hazardous waste regulations.
“Our mission is to protect and enhance public health and the environment in Arizona,” Baker says. “We do this mainly through our Waste Programs Division, Water Quality Division and Air Quality Division.”
Safer standards for environment, employees
According to ADEQ, there are over 400 listed chemicals or items that are considered “hazardous waste.” Simply put, if it burns, fumes, corrodes or reacts - it is hazardous. Waste items can include flammable solvents, strong acids and bases, prescription drugs, pesticides and heavy metals.
“The biggest responsibility I have at the ‘Q,’ as we call it, is to conduct inspections on facilities that are generating, transporting or treating hazardous waste,” Baker says. “If I notice an area of concern, I help that company gain compliance so they can have a safer work environment for their employees and potentially prevent future contamination of the environment.”
Courses evolve into job skills
Baker chose to attend Arizona State University for its science programs and ultimately graduated from the School of Sustainability in 2012. He first pursued a degree in chemistry before realizing the field wasn’t as interesting as he thought it would be. So with his family’s past experience in environmental fields, Baker decided to incorporate chemistry in a sustainable energy, materials, and technology concentration at the School.
“The courses that focused on environmental regulations, water and wastewater treatment prepared me for my current position at ADEQ,” he says. “These classes got me interested in environmental law and have been extremely helpful in how I understand and fulfill my job responsibilities.”
Real-world experience is a necessity
If it wasn’t for his internships with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Arizona Department of Health Services, Baker says he wouldn’t have gained his position at ADEQ right out of college.
“I almost entirely attribute me getting this position to the experience I had before,” he says. “I had already interned for the state and federal governments, and was doing environmental consulting with a small firm during the summers. This introduced me to the professional environmental world and what types of jobs I could have as a sustainability student.”
In the future, Baker plans to obtain a law degree, pursue the State Bar and use his education “to help further the betterment of the environment, as well as human health.
I learned from my grandfather and father that our resources are precious and pollution directly affects us all, even if we do not live directly next to a contamination source,” he says.
Get involved, future graduates
For those sustainability students beginning a job hunt of their own, Baker advises joining local sustainability organizations like Green Chamber: Greater Phoenix and Arizona Forward (formerly Valley Forward). In Baker’s case, internships played a major role in obtaining his current position.
“Find an internship, whether it is paid or unpaid,” he says. “I have well over a year’s worth of experience doing unpaid internships, and I would not have been able to apply for the jobs I did without them.”
And like most recent graduates entering the real world, Baker says there’s nothing like seeing your name and new career title in print on one job perk: