Environmental Scientists and Specialists

by Kate Williams

What Environmental Scientists and Specialists Do

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=447oFgVvKno

Work Environment

Environmental scientists and specialists work in offices and laboratories. Some may spend time in the field gathering data and monitoring environmental conditions firsthand. Most environmental scientists and specialists work full time.

How to Become an Environmental Scientist or Specialist

Environmental scientists and specialists need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science or science-related field for most entry-level jobs.

Pay

The median annual wage for environmental scientists and specialists was $71,360 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Heightened public interest in the hazards facing the environment, as well as increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth, are expected to spur demand for environmental scientists and specialists.

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, or work with industry to reduce waste.

Duties

Environmental scientists and specialists typically do the following:

  • Determine data collection methods for research projects, investigations, and surveys
  • Collect and compile environmental data from samples of air, soil, water, food, and other materials for scientific analysis
  • Analyze samples, surveys, and other information to identify and assess threats to the environment
  • Develop plans to prevent, control, or fix environmental problems, such as land or water pollution
  • Provide information and guidance to government officials, businesses, and the general public on possible environmental hazards and health risks
  • Prepare technical reports and presentations that explain their research and findings

Environmental scientists and specialists analyze environmental problems and develop solutions to them. For example, many environmental scientists and specialists work to reclaim lands and waters that have been contaminated by pollution. Others assess the risks that new construction projects pose to the environment and make recommendations to governments and businesses on how to minimize the environmental impact of these projects. Environmental scientists and specialists may do research and provide advice on manufacturing practices, such as advising against the use of chemicals that are known to harm the environment.

The federal government and many state and local governments have regulations to ensure that there is clean air to breathe and safe water to drink, and that there are no hazardous materials in the soil. The regulations also place limits on development, particularly near sensitive ecosystems, such as wetlands. Environmental scientists and specialists who work for governments ensure that the regulations are followed. Other environmental scientists and specialists work for consulting firms that help companies comply with regulations and policies.

Some environmental scientists and specialists focus on environmental regulations that are designed to protect people’s health, while others focus on regulations designed to minimize society’s impact on the ecosystem. The following are examples of types of specialists:

Climate change analysts study effects on ecosystems caused by the changing climate. They may do outreach education activities and grant writing typical of scientists.

Environmental health and safety specialists study how environmental factors affect human health. They investigate potential environmental health risks. For example, they may investigate and address issues arising from soil and water contamination caused by nuclear weapons manufacturing. They also educate the public about health risks that may be present in the environment.

Environmental restoration planners assess polluted sites and determine the cost and activities necessary to clean up the area.

Industrial ecologists work with industry to increase the efficiency of their operations and thereby limit the impacts these activities have on the environment. They analyze costs and benefits of various programs, as well as their impacts on ecosystems.

Other environmental scientists and specialists perform work and receive training similar to that of other physical or life scientists, but they focus on environmental issues. For example, environmental chemists study the effects that various chemicals have on ecosystems. To illustrate, they may study how acids affect plants, animals, and people. Some areas in which they work include waste management and the remediation of contaminated soils, water, and air.

Many people with backgrounds in environmental science become postsecondary teachers or high school teachers.

Environmental scientists and specialists held about 90,900 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of environmental scientists and specialists were as follows:

Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 24%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 23
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 11
Engineering services 9
Federal government, excluding postal service 6

Environmental scientists and specialists work in offices and laboratories. Some may spend time in the field gathering data and monitoring environmental conditions firsthand, but this work is much more likely to be done by environmental science and protection technicians. Fieldwork can be physically demanding, and environmental scientists and specialists may work in all types of weather. Environmental scientists and specialists may have to travel to meet with clients or present research at conferences.

Work Schedules

Most environmental scientists and specialists work full time. They may have to work more than 40 hours a week when working in the field.

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of environmental scientists and specialists.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2019

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes.

Doctoral or professional degree $94,490

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and analyze the ways in which the substances interact with one another.

Bachelor’s degree $78,790

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.

Bachelor’s degree $62,410

Environmental engineers

Environmental Engineers

Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems.

Bachelor’s degree $88,860

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Environmental science and protection technicians monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution and contamination.

Associate’s degree $46,540

Geoscientists

Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth.

Bachelor’s degree $92,040

Hydrologists

Hydrologists

Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust.

Bachelor’s degree $81,270

Microbiologists

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites.

Bachelor’s degree $75,650

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians

Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians collect data on and analyze many types of work environments and work procedures.

See How to Become One $70,480

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems.

Bachelor’s degree $63,270

For more information about environmental scientists and specialists, including training, visit

American Geosciences Institute

UCAR

For more information about certification as a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager, visit

Institute of Hazardous Materials Management

For more information about certification as an ecologist, visit

Ecological Society of America

For information about environmental health specialists and related occupations, visit

National Environmental Health Association


O*NET

Climate Change Analysts

Environmental Restoration Planners

Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health

Industrial Ecologists


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Environmental Scientists and Specialists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-scientists-and-specialists.htm (visited ).


You may also like