Number 1 Worst Job: Hazmat Diver
They swim in sewage. Enough said.
“The worst was at a factory pig farm,” says Steven M. Barsky, the author of Diving in High-Risk Environments, the industry bible for hazardous-materials divers. “A guy had driven his truck into the waste lagoon and drowned. Not only was it full of urine and liquid pig feces, the farmer had dumped all the needles used to inject the pigs with antibiotics and hormones in there.” Someone had to recover the body, and the task fell to commercial hazmat divers.
Outfitted with fully encapsulating drysuits, these Jacques Cousteaus of the sewers swim into clouds of waste, inside nuclear reactors and through toxic spills on America´s coasts and inland waterways. When the Environmental Protection Agency identifies pollutants, it contracts with a hazmat team to clean things up. That means using giant vacuums to suck up a polluted lakebed, hoisting leaking barrels to the surface, or diving into the heart of an oil spill or into a sewer to fix a clog. It´s dangerous work-one breach in the drysuit, and a whole stew of bacteria and toxins can fill ´er up. Jesse Hutton, of Ballard Salvage and Diving in Seattle, has seen his share of close calls. “I´ve been on jobs where suits have been breached by rough steel or something sharp,” he says, pointing out that divers must keep their shots up to date.
The divers are generally well-paid, but hey, so are accountants. “To be an expert,” Barsky says, “you need to be a chemist, a physician, a biologist and 10 other things. Not many people are.”