Environmental Health Jobs: Salary and Career Facts
Research what it takes to work in the environmental health field. Learn about job duties, education requirements, salary and employment outlook for some careers in environmental health.
What Does an Environmental Health Worker Do?
The job duties of environmental health workers vary by their titles. As an environmental scientist, you might specialize in studying climate change, the intersection between human health and the environment, the environmental effects of industry, or the effects of chemicals on ecosystems, among other topics. You could also design plans for restoring pollution sites. As an environmental protection technician, you would inspect establishments and run lab tests on samples in order to identify environmental risks and violations to environmental regulations. Based on your results, you would write up reports that could be used to correct any problems.
The following chart gives an overview of two career possibilities in this field.
|Environmental Scientist||Environmental Protection Technician|
|Degree Required||Bachelor's degree; master's or PhD degree for advanced positions||Associate's degree; some positions require bachelor's degree|
|Education Field of Study||Environmental science, environmental health, biology||Environmental science, environmental health or quality, public health|
|Key Skills||Analytical, problem-solving, communication, interpersonal||Analytical, critical thinking, interpersonal, communication|
|Licensure Required||NA||Licensing required in some states; specifics vary by state|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)||8%*||9%*|
|Average Salary (2018)||$77,580*||$50,350*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What Careers Exist in Environmental Health?
Several career opportunities exist in environmental conservation, industrial safety and public health for environmental health scientists and specialists. An environmental health professional identifies potential health hazards and works to protect both the public and the environment from issues caused by nature, industry or human interaction. As an environmental health scientist, you'll conduct site tests and experiments, writing technical reports and determining the best way to solve environmental issues related to the air, water or soil. As a scientist, you could work for private corporations, pharmaceutical manufacturers or government agencies.
Working from an environmental perspective, you could become an environmental protection technician and work to clean air, water and land of pollutants or hazardous materials, such as oil spills or chemical leaks. In an industrial or occupational safety capacity, you could choose to provide inspection services for mines, construction sites or scientific laboratories, ensuring safe working conditions and operating equipment. In the food industry, you might elect to verify crop and dairy farmers comply with federal regulations regarding food safety and humane animal treatment. If you'd like to work in the medical industry, you could provide research for pharmaceutical companies to determine the cause of certain diseases and help to develop cures or vaccinations.
What Degree Should I Get?
The BLS notes that environmental protection technicians, including those working in environmental health, need an associate's degree to enter this scientific field; some positions might require a bachelor's degree in environmental health or environmental quality. Programs at both levels provide you with laboratory experience, and you can usually direct your elective studies in such areas as occupational safety, conservation or public health. Some schools allow you to earn dual bachelor's degrees or simultaneously work toward a master's degree in specific fields, such as public health or biological engineering.
A master's degree in public or environmental health, occupational safety or industrial hygiene could be useful for advancing your current career, obtaining a research position or teaching at the high school level. Master's programs typically take two years to complete and you can find several universities that offer online learning. You'll spend considerable time performing research in your chosen specialization, though you'll also take some core coursework relevant to the program's field of study.
If you're interested in teaching at the postsecondary level or performing independent research, you'll need to earn a doctoral degree. Doctor of Philosophy programs focus primarily on research and theory, training you to employ various methods for environmental, public and occupational health analysis. You can often choose to specialize in a particular field, such as water or air quality, ecological conservation or environmental toxicology.
How Much Can I Earn?
In May 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that there were 80,480 environmental scientists, including those specializing in environmental health, working in the U.S. They made an average salary of $80,480. About 48% of environmental scientists overall were employed in the consulting services sector or by state governments.
Environmental science protection technician jobs, including those in the health field, totaled approximately 32,600 in May 2018, according to the BLS. The average salary for all these technicians was $32,600. About 28% of technicians worked in either consulting services or in architectural and engineering services.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
If you are interested in environmental conservation, you could also consider becoming a forester. In this job, you would oversee many aspects of forest management, including regeneration planning and forest fire prevention. You need to have a bachelor's degree to gain entry-level work for this position. Another potential career for you to consider is as an occupational health and safety specialist. The duties for this career would be to evaluate workplaces to make sure that they comply with regulations designed to protect the health and safety of workers, consumers and the environment as a whole. The minimum educational requirement is a bachelor's degree.