Environmental health is the broad study of toxic substances and hazardous materials that threaten human health. If you're interested, you'll need a bachelor's degree to enter the field, although environmental health professionals commonly earn graduate degrees. The majority of professionals work in government or consulting. Read on to learn more.
Environmental health professionals believe that the prevention of disease begins with healthy environments. Drawing from other physical and natural science disciplines, the field of environmental health focuses on issues related to environmental quality, contamination and sanitation. Environmental health jobs often involve identifying and controlling environmental factors that can adversely impact human health. Your job duties might include measuring toxic substances found in air, water, soil and food to determine their risks. A genuine concern for environmental safety coupled with strong computer and problem-solving skills are essential in this field.
Governmental agencies at the local, state and federal levels employ most environmental health graduates. Many others work for private environmental consulting firms. You could also work for nonprofit organizations and international corporations interested in environmental risks and safety. Sample job titles include environmental technician, environmental health specialist and environmental scientist. Your job duties as an environmental scientist and health specialist can include controlling hazards in schools and workplaces, inspecting drinking water for compliance with safety standards and ensuring toxic wastes are disposed of properly.
Jobs for environmental health professionals can be financially rewarding. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment of environmental scientists and specialists would grow by 28% between 2008 and 2018, a rate much faster than the national average (www.bls.gov). The BLS expected jobs in state and local governments to be particularly good for environmental health workers. As of May 2010, the median annual salary for environmental scientists and specialists, including health specialists, was $61,700, with the top ten percent earning over $107,000, per the BLS.
If you want to become involved in helping to ensure a clean and safe environment, you can do so through a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health degree program. Degree programs in environmental safety also exist. You might want to pursue a graduate degree, since the BLS reported that advanced education is becoming increasingly desired in this area of work. Master's and doctoral degree programs in environmental health and public health are commonly available. More specialized degree options include environmental epidemiology, exposure assessment, occupational health and industrial hygiene. If you prefer distance learning, you could pursue an online master's degree in environmental health.
You can expect environmental health courses to include lessons on food safety, toxicology, public health policies, water quality and occupational health issues. Advanced coursework covers topics in epidemiology, medical biometry, microbial hazards, chemistry of pollutants and waste management. You'll also likely learn hands-on statistical and technical methods to assess potential hazardous risks and develop solutions to environmental problems. Earning a degree from a school accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council is a requirement for some federal jobs (www.ehacoffice.org).