Environmental Chemist: Education and Career Information

Sep 26, 2019

Environmental chemists require a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the education, job duties, and postgraduate degrees to see if this is the right career for you.

Environmental chemists are knowledgable about chemicals, waste, and pollution, and how it affects the environment, including plants and animals. Typically, environmental chemists work to try to understand and/or reduce waste or pollution. This position involves research and using equipment to gather data and produce reports.

Essential Information

Environmental chemists attempt to locate and neutralize threats of pollution to people, animals and plants using their knowledge of chemical properties and reactions. Their job requires at least a bachelor's degree in chemistry or environmental science.

Required Education Varies, but entry-level positions typically require a bachelor's degree in chemistry, earth science or other relevant program
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 8% for environmental scientists and specialists*
Median Annual Wage (2018) $71,130 for environmental scientists and specialists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Environmental Chemist Education Information

Bachelor's Degree

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that a bachelor's degree in a field relevant to earth science is sufficient for most entry-level environmental jobs. Another option is earning an undergraduate degree in environmental science. These programs are typically multidisciplinary, incorporating elements of biology, chemistry, physics and philosophy. They emphasize creating a sustainable living environment in fields such as ecology, hydrology and even atmospheric science.

Environmental chemists can also earn a bachelor's degree in chemistry. These programs focus on atoms and molecules that make up all substances on the planet. The BLS reported that chemistry graduates can take a position in the environmental sciences if they focus on relevant courses (like geology) and gain work and research experience in an environmental area.

Master's Degree

Per the BLS, most employers in the field prefer job-seekers to possess a master's degree in environmental science. Master's programs push students toward real-world applications of the knowledge gained. For instance, master's programs may offer specializations in environmental public policy or environmental biology.

Doctoral Degree

For research and academic jobs in the field, the BLS stated that environmental scientists often require a Doctor of Philosophy. Such programs prepare students to solve multifaceted and immediate environmental issues. They also emphasize research and typically require students to produce a dissertation.

Career Information for Environmental Chemists

Job Description

Environmental chemists study how chemicals, waste and pollution affect the animals, plants and people around us. The heart of their position is research and investigating the source of chemical agents and ways to reduce and prevent hazards. They may be called upon to work in environmental emergencies, provide environmental consultations or evaluate risks.

Job Duties

Environmental chemists collect samples of water, soil and air around them to test. They record what they find and construct reports to share with other team members, employers or clients. They also set up and maintain the equipment used to gather and measure data. They constantly reevaluate their efforts and come up with ways to improve data collection and research methods, as well as establishing effective ways of controlling pollutants.


According to the BLS, scientists working in an environmental field earned a mean annual salary of $71,130 as of May 2018. The Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services industries held the highest number of employees that year, per the BLS. Meanwhile, the Bureau noted that chemists made a mean wage of $83,850 annually.

Career Outlook

The BLS reported that job opportunities for environmental scientists of all kinds were projected to grow at a faster-than-average pace compared to other jobs. Specifically, from 2018 to 2028, jobs were expected faster than average. This is due mostly to recent initiatives by governments and businesses to be more conscious of their effect on the environment.

Environmental chemists typically need a bachelor's degree to enter this field, although a master's degree may be preferred by some employers, and a doctoral degree is needed for some academic or research positions. Environmental chemists use data gathering and research skills in their quest to understand and reduce waste and toxic pollution and its effects on the environment. They may be responsible for using equipment and creating reports.

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