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Environmental Health Jobs: Options and Requirements

Programs in environmental health typically cover the impact that humans have on natural environments. Find out about the curricula of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for environmental health graduates.

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Many environmental health professionals work for state, federal and local governments and are tasked with creating and regulating environmental policies. Environmental health workers include environmental scientists, environmental science and protection technicians, and environmental health professors.

Essential Information

Environmental health professionals work to lessen the negative impact that businesses, individuals and the government have on nature. They create and regulate new environmental policies that help companies comply with governmental controls and teach the next generation about environmental health. For most positions, a bachelor's degree is required in a relevant field, though a graduate degree might be necessary for some management, academic or research jobs.

Career Environmental Scientist Environmental Science and Protection Technician Environmental Health Professor
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree at minimum Postsecondary training Doctoral degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11% 9% 9% (for all postsecondary teachers)
Mean Annual Salary (2015)* $73,930 $46,540 $88,570

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Students with an interest in environmental health can pursue a career with local or state government agencies, the private sector or in an academic setting. Some career titles with a focus on environmental health include environmental scientist, environmental science and protection technician and postsecondary environmental health teacher.

Environmental Scientist

Within federal, state and local government agencies, numerous occupation options exist for environmental health professionals in research, control and management. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that approximately 40% of all environmental scientists and specialists were employed in state, local and federal government positions in 2014 creating, regulating and enforcing environmental policies (www.bls.gov). Scientists and experts in hydrology, geology, air pollution, hazardous waste and chemistry conduct studies and consult with policy-makers, providing qualitative and quantifiable reasoning behind policy recommendations.

In addition to research scientists, environmental specialists ensure that the policies are followed and evaluate the results. Community outreach programs are created and directed by community liaison officers, directors of public health and compliance experts to build public awareness of environmental issues and ensure that the changes recommended are feasible and worthwhile.

Other career opportunities allow environmental health professionals to investigate and inspect regions, cities and structures to establish and confirm procedures that secure public, air, water or soil health. Occupational health compliance officers, sanitation engineers, health policy analysts, quality investigators and consumer safety officers are just some of the many titles that involve the inspection of sites to determine the impact of industry and habitation of certain areas.

The BLS reports that the mean annual salary for environmental scientists and specialists, including those that work in the area of environmental health, was $73,930 as of May 2015. Job growth for environmental scientists is expected to increase by 11% by 2024. Federal government employees earn higher wages than local or state government-employed environmental scientists.

Environmental Science and Protection Technician

Environmental science and protection technicians might also find employment with private companies and consulting firms to solve problems and offer advice to decrease environmental impact. As environmental regulations become more stringent, many large corporations find that previous practices do not meet regulations. Many large companies employ environmental consultants full-time to create strategies that help the business stay profitable and successful, while employing more environmentally friendly techniques. Large firms might also contract environmental consultants for specific problems or projects. Data provided by the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS) for environmental science and protection technicians indicates that the mean annual salary for employees was $46,540 as of May 2015, and job growth in this field is expected to increase by 9% between 2014 and 2024.

Environmental Health Professor

Growth in the environmental health industry is expected to bring about a greater need for professors to educate the next generation of environmental health specialists. Nearly all colleges and universities employ professors to teach earth sciences and environmental health courses. The BLS reports that postsecondary-level environmental science teachers made an average salary of $88,570 per year as of May 2015, and job growth is expected to increase by 9% between 2014 and 2024.

Requirements of Environmental Health Professionals

Educational Requirements

A bachelor's degree is typically a minimum requirement for entry-level and some skilled environmental health jobs. The most relevant major varies with the specific environmental focus of a job. A degree in environmental health would be the most practical option for positions involving inspection and regulation of environmental policy, though biology, chemistry or geological studies could also be suitable.

Scientific and research positions that include designing and conducting environmental studies usually require a master's degree. A degree in environmental studies, health or sciences provide the most relevant instruction; however, jobs in areas such as hydrology or geology might be better served with a specialized degree or concentration.

A Doctor of Philosophy in environmental health isn't normally required for scientific positions in the field, though high-level managers could benefit from doctoral studies. Those interested in a career in postgraduate academia often do need to earn a doctoral degree. Doctoral programs usually include teaching assistantships, offering financial aid to students and providing practical classroom experience.

Certification Requirements

In addition to the necessary degree, certification might be required or strongly recommended for many environmental health specialists. The National Environmental Health Association offers credentials for several vocations in the field, including those involving wastewater treatment, food services or hazardous materials. All of the certifications require experience in the designated field and passage of an examination, and some include graduation from a relevant degree program within the eligibility provisions.

Working in environmental health fields typically requires at least a bachelor's degree in a related field. Those interested in a career in research may need a master's degree. Postsecondary environmental science teachers are expected to have a doctoral degree in a relevant field.

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