Environmental chemists are responsible for analysing the affects of chemicals on soil, air and water environments, and they are also responsible for devising solutions to environmental problems.
The main aim of environmental chemists is to locate and neutralise threats of pollution to people, animals and plants, using their knowledge of chemical properties and reactions.
They conduct qualitative and quantitative chemical analyses or experiments in laboratories for quality or process control, or to develop new products or knowledge.
“Environmental chemist” is a general term. In fact, most chemists in the field would probably describe themselves more specifically by the work they do. They may focus on collecting and analysing samples using chromatography or spectroscopy, or developing remediation programmes, or changing production processes to yield a more environmentally-friendly product, or providing expert advice on safety and emergency responses, or on dealing with government regulations and compliance issues.
Environmental chemists commonly spend their time monitoring and designing waste management and disposal sites, as well as providing risk assessment for construction and other projects that could potentially harm the environment.
They will need to write technical papers or reports, or prepare standards and specifications for processes, facilities, products or tests. They will have to confer with scientists or engineers to conduct analyses of research projects, interpret test results, or develop non-standard tests.
Work is often done in an indoor laboratory. However, when studying chemicals in the environment, a riverbed or stream may become the laboratory. Some companies have sophisticated indoor ecosystems in which they test their products, while others collect data outdoors.
Many opportunities exist to move into different areas of expertise, often outside the laboratory. Many chemists return to school to study public policy, law, or business applying their chemistry know-how 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 who must ensure 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.
Schooling & School Subjects
Degree: BSc in chemistry, chemical engineering, environmental science or a related field. Courses in biology, analytical chemistry, geology, hydrology or toxicology would be useful.
Most environmental chemists emphasise that a solid foundation in chemistry is important to this work. Chemistry students interested in applying their training to an environmentally-orientated job are encouraged to take courses in environmental studies.
Postgraduate: The following programmes related to environmental chemistry may be followed:
BSc Honours: Environmental Chemistry and Chemical Trace Analysis courses;
PGD Env.Science: Environmental Chemistry course.
• chemical industry
• private consulting firms
• Government agencies – Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency
• waste management companies
• colleges and universitie
The South African Chemical Institute
The Secretary - Laila Smith
School of Chemistry
University of Witwatersrand
Tel: (011) 717-6705