Dirtiest Jobs in Boston: Somebody’s Gotta Do It

By Kristen Bates

Dirty jobs are a necessary evil in any functioning town or city.  Without them, our cities would crumble faster than the Roman Empire. These jobs are not just for anyone and qualifications vary depending on how dirty and complicated the jobs are. Sometimes these dirty jobs can be dangerous and unsettling. It’s a thankless task to work a dirty job but somebody has to do them.


Infographic displays dirty jobs based on research done by the author of this article. Infographic made by Kristen Bates.

In cities like Boston, people willing to work these jobs play a larger role in our society. They do the grunt work so cities can thrive and function. Without these dirty jobs, our streets would be filled with garbage, popular restuarants would be overrun with rats and homes would be deemed unlivable due to biohazardous waste. All of these jobs listed in the infographic help make Boston a great city but three most important ones to focus on are crime scene cleaners, wastewater treatment workers and rodent control technicians.

Crime Scene Cleaners

Thomas Licker, President of the American Bio Recovery Association, says that crime scene cleaners specialize in sanitazing homes, businesses and vehicles after suicides, homicides, natural death and hoarding cases. These guys come in after the body and evidence is removed from the scene and they clean up what’s left. The job can last anywhere from just a couple of hours to a few days depending on how bad the scene is.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median salary for crime scene cleaners in 2018 was $42,030 per year (while the top ten percent was around $75,000) and $20.21 per hour. Each crime scene cleanup is different and workers can charge upwards of $10,000 for a job. People who want to become a crime scene cleaner do not need a college education but must go through Biorecovery Technician Training that is verified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which regulates workers, like crime scene cleaners, who are exposed to blood and bloodborne pathogens.

Once people complete their training to become crime scene cleaners, they must seek qualified employers and keep up to date on training. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 17% increase in crime scene cleaning jobs from 2016 to 2026.

Crime scene cleaning wasn’t around for long. In fact, crime scene cleaner only came around in the late 80’s and early 90’s when crime rates were increasing. Several companies learned how to deal with biohazards and trained to clean up the aftermath. Before that, it was left to family members to clean up once the body was gone.

While crime scene cleaners primarily focus on cleaning crime scenes, they specialize in other areas dealing with biohazards. Crime scene cleaners in Boston also help with hoarding cases and lead and asbestos cleanup. The city of Boston says it has seen an increase of hoarding cases over the past five years.

The homicide rate in Boston has also gone up substantially from 2015 to 2019. According to data from the city of Boston’s website, the Boston Police Department has responded to 52 homicides in 2018. This is not including homicides in cities and counties surrounding the Boston area. Crime scene cleaners tend to operate in multiple counties around their area to keep business going.

Wastewater Treatment Workers

According to the EPA, wastewater treatment is one of the most common forms of pollution control in the United States. Sewage water from all over the country gets sent to various treatment plants where the water is filtered and cleaned. When you flush your toilet, the contents inside are flushed down with 1.6 to 7 gallons of water and sent to a treatment plant.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wastewater treatment plant workers earned a median salary of $46,780 in 2018 – while the top 10 percent received a salary of $76,200. In 2016, the number of jobs worked in a wastewater treatment plant was 119,200. While the number was high, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 3 percent decrease in the industry by 2016 with 3,800 jobs no longer being offered. This could be due to the automation of trade industries such as sewage treatment. While those working in the wastewater industry only need a high school diploma, they are required to receive long-term onsite training.

Even though the job of wastewater treatment might seem automated, there are still physical parts of sifting large debris from the water and raking it into a dumpster. People who work in wastewater treatment facilities that are in charge of separating larger debris from water often have the responsibility of dealing with a lot of people’s poop.

Treatment plants have systems in place to catch larger debris caught in the sewage system. This could include trash, rocks, and feces. Smaller debris slips past the mesh and sinks to the bottom of a tank where the debris gets separated. This tank is referred to as a “pool.” After the sewage has been screened, it passes into a “grit chamber” where small stones and sand settle at the bottom of the chamber and away from the water.

Once the water is filtered, it’s treated with chemicals like chlorine to kill the rest of the bacteria. If this is done correctly, the chlorine can kill 99 percent of the bacteria and other harmful substances in the water. It’s a dirty job but it is vital in making sure our water stays clean. The next time you flush your toilet, thank a wastewater worker.

Rodent and Pest Control Technicians

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most pest control workers begin as technicians, receiving both formal technical instruction and moderate-term on-the-job training from employers. They often study specialties such as rodent control, termite control, and fumigation. Technicians also must complete general training in pesticide use and safety. Pest control training can usually be completed in less than three months. After completing the required training, workers are qualified to provide pest control services. Because pest control methods change, workers often attend continuing education classes.

These guys are responsible for getting rid of rats. Rats have been an issue in Boston for years and they are not going away anytime soon. In 2016, The Boston Inspectional Services Department (ISD) records showed that 3,524 rodent complaints were reported in the city of Boston. That’s a lot of rat complaints!

Data is from the Boston Inspectional Services Department (ISD) and only represents rodent complaints from 2014 to 2016. Infographic by Kristen Bates.

Trying to get rid of these rats is a lot trickier too. It involved cooperation from the landlords who own the buildings that these complaints came from. People from richer neighborhoods like Beacon Hill are far more likely to send in a complaint about rats than those in poor neighborhoods. Commissioner William Christopher Jr. claims cases stay open longer in poorer neighborhoods because absentee landlords can delay resolution, because ISD needs property owners’ cooperation.

Once rodent control technicians are given the greenlight, they search for rat burrows and rat droppings in the area before strategically placing traps and poison pellets in the area. Rats are smart so rodent control technicians have to outsmart them. The most common rat in Boston is the Norway Rat; a bigger rat with brown fur that tends to be more aggressive than other rats.

If rats go unnoticed, it can create a huge problem. Rats generally live for one year at which time they can have six to twelve “pups” per litter, up to seven times a year. Rodent control technicians have to be on top of their game and willing to work long hours if needed.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pest control jobs are expected to increase 8 percent by 2026. Most pest control workers are employed full time and working evenings and weekends is common. About 1 in 5 pest control workers worked more than 40 hours per week in 2016. In 2018, the median annual wage for pest control workers was $35,610 while the top 10 percent earned more than $57,400.

Dirty jobs like these require a lot of hands on experience. People working these jobs clean up a lot of other people’s nasty junk. They deal with other people’s garbage, biohazardous waste and feces. This is done on a daily basis. Without these dirty jobs, Boston would not be a functioning city and instead a city overrun by rats and sewage in the streets. These dirty jobs can get pretty disgusting but somebody has to do them.