Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Summary

environmental scientists and specialists image
Environmental scientists and specialists analyze environmental problems and develop solutions.
Quick Facts: Environmental Scientists and Specialists
2016 Median Pay $68,910 per year
$33.13 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 89,500
Job Outlook, 2016-26 11% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 9,900

What Environmental Scientists and Specialists Do

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.

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 $68,910 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for environmental scientists and specialists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of environmental scientists and specialists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about environmental scientists and specialists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Environmental Scientists and Specialists Do About this section

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

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.

Work Environment About this section

Environmental scientists and specialists
Many environmental scientists and specialists work in laboratories.

Environmental scientists and specialists held about 89,500 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of environmental scientists and specialists were as follows:

Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 23%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 23
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 14
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.

How to Become an Environmental Scientist or Specialist About this section

Environmental scientists and specialists
For most jobs, environmental scientists and specialists need at least a bachelor's degree in environmental science or a related field.

For most jobs, environmental scientists and specialists need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science.

Education and Training

For most entry-level jobs, environmental scientists and specialists must have a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a science-related field, such as biology, chemistry, physics, geosciences, or engineering. However, a master’s degree may be needed for advancement. Environmental scientists and specialists who have a doctoral degree make up a small percentage of the occupation, and this level of training typically is needed only for the relatively few postsecondary teaching and basic research positions.

A bachelor’s degree in environmental science offers a broad approach to the natural sciences. Students typically take courses in biology, chemistry, geology, and physics. Students often take specialized courses in hydrology or waste management as part of their degree as well. Classes in environmental policy and regulation are also beneficial. Students who want to reach the Ph.D. level may find it advantageous to major in a more specific natural science, such as chemistry, biology, physics, or geology, rather than earn a broader environmental science degree.

Many environmental science programs include an internship, which allows students to gain practical experience. Prospective scientists also may volunteer for or participate in internships after graduation to develop skills needed for the occupation.

Students should look for classes and internships that include work in computer modeling, data analysis, and Geographic Information Systems (GISs). Students with experience in these programs will be the best prepared to enter the job market. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) offers several programs to help students broaden their understanding of environmental sciences.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Environmental scientists and specialists base their conclusions on careful analysis of scientific data. They must consider all possible methods and solutions in their analyses.

Communication skills. Environmental scientists and specialists may need to present and explain their findings to audiences of varying backgrounds and write technical reports.

Interpersonal skills. Environmental scientists and specialists typically work on teams along with scientists, engineers, and technicians. Team members must be able to work together effectively to achieve their goals.

Problem-solving skills. Environmental scientists and specialists try to find the best possible solution to problems that affect the environment and people’s health.

Self-discipline. Environmental scientists and specialists may spend a lot of time working alone. They need to stay motivated and get their work done without supervision.

Advancement

As environmental scientists and specialists gain experience, they earn more responsibilities and autonomy, and may supervise the work of technicians or other scientists. Eventually, they may be promoted to project leader, program manager, or some other management or research position.

Other environmental scientists and specialists go on to work as researchers or faculty at colleges and universities. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Environmental scientists and specialists can become Certified Hazardous Materials Managers through the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management. This certification, which must be renewed every 5 years, shows that an environmental scientist or specialist is staying current with developments relevant to the occupation’s work. In addition, the Ecological Society of America offers several levels of certification for environmental scientists who wish to demonstrate their proficiency in ecology.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Environmental scientists and specialists often begin their careers as field analysts, research assistants, or environmental science and protection technicians in laboratories and offices.

Some environmental scientists and specialists begin their careers as scientists in related occupations, such as hydrology or engineering, and then move into the more interdisciplinary field of environmental science.

Pay About this section

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Median annual wages, May 2016

Physical scientists

$77,790

Environmental scientists and specialists, including health

$68,910

Total, all occupations

$37,040

 

The median annual wage for environmental scientists and specialists was $68,910 in May 2016. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,220, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $120,320.

In May 2016, the median annual wages for environmental scientists and specialists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $100,700
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 68,150
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 67,540
Engineering services 67,220
State government, excluding education and hospitals 62,110

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

Job Outlook About this section

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Environmental scientists and specialists, including health

11%

Physical scientists

10%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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 projected to spur demand for environmental scientists and specialists. Many jobs will remain concentrated in state and local governments, and in industries that provide consulting services. Scientists and specialists will continue to be needed in these industries to analyze environmental problems and develop solutions that ensure communities’ health.

Businesses are expected to continue to consult with environmental scientists and specialists to help them minimize the impact their operations have on the environment. For example, environmental consultants help businesses to develop practices that minimize waste, prevent pollution, and conserve resources. Other environmental scientists and specialists are expected to be needed to help planners develop and construct buildings, utilities, and transportation systems that protect natural resources and limit damage to the land.

Job Prospects

Environmental scientists and specialists should have good job opportunities. In addition to growth, many job openings will be created by scientists who retire, advance to management positions, or change careers.

Candidates may improve their employment prospects by gaining hands-on experience through an internship.

Employment projections data for environmental scientists and specialists, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Environmental scientists and specialists, including health

19-2041 89,500 99,300 11 9,900 employment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

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 Help 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
Biochemists and biophysicists

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes, such as cell development, growth, heredity, and disease.

Doctoral or professional degree $82,180
Chemists and materials scientists

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. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.

Bachelor's degree $75,420
Conservation scientists and foresters

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

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

Bachelor's degree $60,610
Environmental engineers

Environmental Engineers

Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They are involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control.

Bachelor's degree $84,890
Environmental science and protection technicians

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Environmental science and protection technicians monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution and contamination, including those affecting public health.

Associate's degree $44,190
Geoscientists

Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future.

Bachelor's degree $89,780
Hydrologists

Hydrologists

Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust. They use their expertise to solve problems in the areas of water quality or availability.

Bachelor's degree $80,480
Microbiologists

Microbiologists

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites. They try to understand how these organisms live, grow, and interact with their environments.

Bachelor's degree $66,850
Occupational health and safety specialists

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. Specialists inspect workplaces for adherence to regulations on safety, health, and the environment. Technicians work with specialists in conducting tests and measuring hazards to help prevent harm to workers, property, the environment, and the general public.

See How to Become One $66,820
Zoologists and wildlife biologists

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems. They study the physical characteristics of animals, animal behaviors, and the impacts humans have on wildlife and natural habitats.

Bachelor's degree $60,520

Contacts for More Information About this section

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,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-scientists-and-specialists.htm (visited November 01, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.