Environmental chemists monitor what is in the air, water, and soil to study how chemicals enter the environment, what effects they have, and how human activity affects the environment. They monitor the source and extent of pollution and contamination, especially compounds that affect human health, and they promote sustainability, conservation, and protection.
Environmental chemists can be involved in analytical testing or new product development in the lab, or work with users of chemicals in the field, and safety and regulatory issues in an office.
On an average day an environmental chemist must be able to understand and use knowledge from other disciplines, including biology, geology, ecology, sedimentology, mineralogy, genetics, soil and water chemistry, hydrology, toxicology, math, and engineering. Because the environment is so complex, environmental chemistry is a very interdisciplinary field, and environmental chemists work with many other kinds of scientists. Most environmental science and protection technicians work for state or local governments or in private consulting firms.
- Analytical chemistry skills, especially chromatography, spectroscopy, and spectrophotometer are often required, especially at the entry level.
- Familiarity with the concepts of green chemistry, which involves reducing and eliminating the use or generation of hazardous substances when designing, manufacturing, or using chemical products and processes.
- Environmental scientists must be familiar with relevant agencies and regulations and keep that knowledge current as regulations change.
- Environmental chemistry is highly interdisciplinary, so it requires excellent interpersonal and communication skills when interacting with other scientists, and they should be able to express ideas effectively to a non-scientific audience as well.
The importance of the latter becomes apparent when chemists deal with regulations or with a company’s sales and marketing staff.
- Analytical skills are crucial for environmental chemists to decide which tests to conduct, ensure test results are both accurate and precise, and understand what the results mean.
- Critical-thinking skills are required to reach conclusions from testing results, and problem-solving skills are required to identify the most cost-effective responses that will minimize waste, prevent pollution, and conserve resources.
- Environmental issues do not stop at governmental borders, so cultural awareness and the ability to speak other languages is becoming more valuable.
Environmental chemists may be involved in many different areas, such as analytical testing, new product development in the lab, fieldwork with users of chemicals, and safety and regulatory issues. Many chemists return to school to study public policy, law, or business and apply their chemistry knowledge in new ways. For example, knowledge of chemical processes is often vital for an individual who works in a corporation’s regulatory affairs department and ensures compliance with government regulations.
Environmental management is becoming a popular career track. Students who hold degrees in environmental sciences are finding jobs throughout the chemical industry, often working alongside geologists, biologists, and chemists.
Original content at acs.org