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Understanding the Role of an Environmental Chemist and Education Required

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 1/9/2011

This article will discuss the details of being an environmental chemist as well as the education required to become one.

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    Environmental chemists can play a number of roles. The most popular include collecting and analyzing samples, dealing with government compliance issues and regulations, developing remediation programs, advising on emergency and safety response, and changing production methods to help create more environmentally friendly products. Their main goal is to conduct research and develop processes which help the environment and educate others on how to live environmentally friendly.

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    Working Conditions

    Environmental chemists work in a variety of places. Some teach at high schools and colleges, work outside in their environment, work in laboratories, or find work with the government. Those working these jobs will often work regular schedules. Most environmental chemists work regular schedules, but those working in different industries often find themselves working overtime. They may work outside in the environment, however most of their work will be conducted in laboratories.

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    Education and Training

    There is no single path that can be taken to become an environmental chemist. However, taking classes in certain subjects is highly recommended and often required. Chemistry classes with advanced engineering and math classes are the most common path. Students are also encouraged to take classes in biology, hydrology, geology, and toxicology. An ACS-Approved Chemistry Program which has an environmental chemistry option is a good starting point for all aspiring environmental chemists.

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    Getting the Job

    Aspiring environmental chemists can obtain some information and job leads from their college or university, or others in their local area. They can contact environmental chemistry firms and directly inquire about available jobs. They can also contact their state and federal government to inquire about possible career opportunities.

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    Career Outlook and Salary

    Environmental chemists can follow a variety of career paths. These include waste management, private consulting, remediation work, mining and petroleum companies, manufacturing companies, paper and pulp industries, telecommunications companies, pharmaceuticals, utilities, petrochemicals, laboratories, chemical companies, and hospitals. This is a rapidly growing field. Even those with an Associate's degree are able to find employment. However, the most employment opportunities will be found by those with a Master's degree or higher.

    The average annual entry-level salary is $29,920.00. The average annual salary for environmental chemists is $47,600.00. The approximate maximum annual salary is $78,200.00.