Pathways to Progress: Exploring Careers in Environmental Health

Published on: Jun 17, 2024

Environmental health is a branch of public health that addresses the relationship between the environment and people. It is an interdisciplinary science that seeks to protect public health by studying and managing air, water, soil, waste, and pollutants. From wastewater management to wildlife conservation to renewable energy, environmental health professionals play vital roles in regulating and monitoring environmental factors. The Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Occupational and Safety Health Act are examples of successful strides in environmental health and public health policy. 

As we look to the future of green energy sources and healthy equity, there is a persistent and growing need for more environmental health professionals. The LinkedIn Economic Graph 2022 Global Green Skills Report states that the number of Renewable and Environment jobs in the United States has increased by 237% and will outnumber Oil & Gas jobs listed on its platform by 2023. In parallel, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that environmental health professionals have double the average employment growth rate for all occupations. Moreover, once working in the field, there are ample opportunities for growth and continued learning. The  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects 6,900 job openings each year for environmental scientists and specialists from 2022 to 20322.

This article will explore the academic path to a career in environmental health, key occupations, notable environmental health agencies, and career opportunities.

What is Environmental Health? 

Environmental health is one of the core pillars of public health. It focuses on the relationship between people and their natural and built environments. This field has a dual and complementary focus: it aims to protect people from environmental hazards and it aims minimize the impact of human activity on the environment. Environmental health involves studying and managing air, water, soil, waste, and pollutants to achieve these objectives. Environmental health professionals spearhead public campaigns on issues you might already recognize, such as lead exposure prevention, and workplace ergonomics. Whether responding to toxic health hazards or preventing workplace injuries, environmental health directly contributes to communities' welfare on a local and international scale. 

Famously, environmental health professionals from different disciplines collaborated to respond to the 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan. For instance, those working for the CDC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program provided resources for biomonitoring blood lead levels of community members. Meanwhile, environmental health scientists from the EPA tested water samples to assess if the lead was successfully being filtered out.15, 16
Environmental health professionals deal with long-term challenges, such as protecting natural resources, and short-term obstacles, like disaster management.

For instance, an Environmental Epidemiologist at the CDC might conduct research to identify the source of a waterborne disease outbreak. Meanwhile, an Environmental Engineer at the EPA might develop strategies to reduce air pollution in a specific area. Keep reading to learn more about different positions in the field and their responsibilities. According to the O*NET Resource Center, Environmental Health Science professionals “conduct research or perform investigation to identify, abate, or eliminate sources of pollutants or hazards that affect either the environment or public health… based on data derived from measurements or observations of air, food, soil, water, and other sources”1.

By ensuring the safety and quality of our environments, environmental health professionals are critical to maintaining the overall well-being of our communities.

Career Opportunities in Environmental Health

There is an apparent growing demand for environmental health specialists and environmental health employment has a higher-than-average growth rate according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The predicted average growth rate for environmental health occupations from 2022 to 2032 is 6%2. This translates to an expected increase of 6,900 additional jobs annually for the next decade2. Examples of job titles in environmental health include Director of the Office of Environment, Environmental Health Epidemiologist, Regional Health Specialist, and Toxicologist.

Environmental health science offers diverse options for those intrigued by the intersection of natural sciences and environmental and human health. The responsibilities of an environmental health professional span from protecting access to clean water to investigating the safety of pesticides to assessing potential chemical workplace exposures. The career paths in environmental health are equally diverse. For instance, a Hazardous Substances Scientist and Environmental Health Specialist might find themselves in an office or laboratory workplace, while a Wastewater Engineer and Natural Resources Specialist could be out in the field, gathering data or monitoring environmental conditions.

Make sure to check out the ‘Key Environmental Health Positions’ section of this article to read about additional career paths in environmental health. The possibilities are vast, and the field is ripe with opportunities. 

The earning potential for environmental health scientists and specialists is quite optimistic. In the May 2023 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for environmental health professionals is $86,710, nearly double the national average of $48,0603.  The top-paying three industries were Wholesale Trade Agents and Brokers (average salary of $193,120), Merchant Wholesalers, Nondurable Goods (average salary of $175,740), and Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing (average salary of $143,450)3. Although these industries are not inherently a part of the Environmental Health Science field, they employ those with an environmental health background for various reasons. Some of the responsibilities of these professionals may include leading sustainability initiatives, analyzing carbon emissions, or reducing manufacturing consequences on the physical environment. 

Those interested in working in environmental health have a wide selection of workplaces. Career opportunities exist in health departments, government agencies, and the private sector. Notably, the 2023 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports state government and consulting services (scientific, management, and technical) as the two leading industries employing environmental health professionals3.

Common Educational Pathways and Degrees

Academic Paths: According to the O*NET database, a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or another natural science is sufficient for most entry-level jobs in environmental health with coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, and chemistry. Specific to environmental health sciences, students take courses such as hydrology, waste management, or environmental policy and regulation4. For instance, the Environmental Science major at Santa Clara University includes courses such as Environmental Politics & Policy, General Physics, and Biology Systems. Although not always required as part of an undergraduate or graduate degree program, taking classes or internships that build one's skill set in data analysis, computer modeling, and Geographic Information Systems (GISs) is helpful. These are skills that potential employers may expect you to have before joining their company, whether that is through an academic degree or previous work experience. 

A master’s degree is a common option for those interested in a more advanced degree in environmental health. While entry-level positions do not require more than a bachelor’s degree, a higher degree can be helpful for career progression. For an Environmental Health & Safety Manager or Senior Environmental Program Coordinator, an advanced degree would be advantageous in the hiring process. Individuals can pursue various master’s degree programs, including Master of Science (MS) and Master of Public Health (MPH) programs.

Potential degree options include an MPH in Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Washington, an MS in Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the City University of New York, and an MSPH in Environmental Health Policy at Tulane University5

Environmental Health Certifications: Another way to demonstrate a commitment to environmental health is to pursue a certification from an environmental professionals’ association. For example, the Board of Certified Safety Professionals offers the Certified Safety Professional (CSP) certification, while the American Board of Industrial Hygiene offers the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) certification6. Certificates are often specific to a subfield and are not usually required for environmental health professionals. However, they can appeal to potential employers since a certification signifies a solid knowledge base in the respective subject. Obtaining professional certification in an environmental health specialty can be helpful for career advancement and keeping oneself updated within one's field6.

Key Environmental Health Positions

Environmental health professionals are essential to protecting and ensuring public health and safety, with roles ranging from enforcing environmental health regulations to ensuring safe workplaces. Here are a few key environmental health positions and their responsibilities. 

Environmental Scientist:

Environmental scientists study the natural environment and investigate the best ways to protect it, particularly in response to human activity. They work in almost all subfields of environmental health science, such as wildlife preservation, soil erosion, toxic waste cleanup, and air pollution. Their specific duties may include studying how humans impact nearby animal life, presenting research to policymakers, monitoring environmental data, collecting soil samples, or analyzing water aliquots. Two examples of employers include the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and environmental consulting firms such as TTI Environmental.

Environmental Engineer:

An environmental engineer develops procedures and infrastructure to protect the environment and promote public health. Indeed describes their work as involving technologies, equipment, and processes to control and reduce pollution and contamination…this field is a division of civil, chemical, and mechanical engineering”7. Some examples of environmental engineering responsibilities include dam designs, solar energy, rainwater harvesting, recycling plants, and wastewater management.

Environmental engineers are essential for a community to have clean water, air, soil and safe garbage and sewage disposal. Two examples of employers include the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission and the construction firm CDM Smith.

Occupational Health & Safety Specialist:

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational health and safety specialists “collect data on, analyze, and design improvements to many types of work environments and procedures.” These professionals evaluate workspaces and enforce safety regulations. Their goal is to minimize risks of chemical or physical threats to employees. They might even design programs to maintain workplace safety or to outline emergency procedures8.

For example, occupational health and safety specialists might train employees on required protective gear, assess ergonomic practices, or be tasked with incident reports to recommend improvements to workplace safety regulations. Potential employers include Pennoni, a multidisciplinary engineering consulting firm, U-Haul, Adobe, and the CDC.

Registered Environmental Health Specialist:

The Registered Environmental Health Specialist/Registered Sanitarian Credential is the “most predominant credential” the National Environmental Health Association offers. Specialists holding this credential are essential to ensure communities are compliant with local, state, and federal environmental health regulations9. A registered environmental health specialist is usually in charge of administering programs for public and private organizations. The objectives of these programs may vary from food protection to industrial pollution to occupational health standards.

Employers that have hired Registered Environmental Health Specialists include the EPA, Environmental Resources Management (a consulting firm), and Intertek.

Environmental Agencies and Organizations

National institutes and organizations are important for setting safety and health standards, offering training, and developing emergency procedures. They strive to create safer and more efficient processes for environmental health practices and guidelines. These institutions often mediate between environmental health professionals and the general public.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a regulatory agency designed for the national protection of human health and the environment10. The EPA also partners with other public health associations, such as the American Public Health Association and the National Environmental Health Association11. The EPA has national oversight and enforces environmental health regulations such as clean water, safety of chemicals in the marketplace, and toxic waste management10.

Some examples of the EPA’s policies include the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Energy Star program, and Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA).

American Public Health Association (APHA):

The American Public Health Association (APHA) is an organization that serves to build, influence, and advocate for public health. APHA champions many avenues of public health, including environmental health12. As reported by APHA, they bring “national attention to environmental health issues, with a focus on environmental justice, lead contamination, water equity, and climate change” through promoting research, practice, and advocacy12.

For example, APHA puts out policy statements on various issues such as lead poisoning, climate change, organic pollutants, and endocrine disruptors.

American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP):

The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) is a professional society that coordinates committees responsible for safety standards. It also offers resources, certifications, and training to occupational safety and environmental health professionals13. Members of ASSP have access to resources such as networking opportunities, advocacy content, and formal discussions about OSHA and EPA legislation.

The Future of Environmental Health

Environmental health is a budding career field with an abundance of opportunities predicted to open in the next ten years. Some driving factors include emerging interests in environmental sustainability, climate change, groundwater protection, and air pollution analysis. Other rising trends include the transition to renewable energy sources and the use of AI in environmental data monitoring. As health equity becomes increasingly important, there will be more environmental justice roles that will seek to address the disproportionate amount of environmental risk factors that vulnerable populations encounter.

These all indicate a future with a higher demand for environmental health scientists and specialists. Moreover, there are a plethora of career opportunities for many subfields within environmental health.


Environmental health scientists and specialists are crucial in safeguarding environmental and public health. Professionals in this field tackle substantial issues such as climate change, resource conservation, and workplace safety. The field ensures communities have optimal occupational conditions, clean air, uncontaminated soil, potable water, and safe waste disposal. 
Environmental health is an excellent field for those seeking a dynamic and impactful career, offering opportunities for growth and meaningful contribution. Individuals can choose from various work settings and specialties, whether that is developing environmental regulation policies or monitoring mammal populations in response to urbanization. Individuals in environmental health have the chance to positively impact the well-being of communities on a local and global scale.

Click here to access our MPH application timeline guide and get started on your public health journey today!

































About the Authors

Written by:

Talia Menezes, MPH

Talia Menezes, MPH, is currently an HRTP intern at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH), where she supports the project team for Early Childhood Mental Health Services. In this role, she focuses on data collection and analysis for early childhood mental health programs for the Bureau of Children, Youth, and Families (CYF). During her graduate studies, Ms. Menezes completed a practicum focused on the gut-brain-immune axis and its impacts on neuropsychiatric outcomes, including Long Covid, depression, anxiety, and ADHD.

 Ms. Menezes holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Epidemiology from Columbia University, with a specialization in Chronic Disease.  She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Neuroscience from Santa Clara University.

 Prior to pursuing her MPH, Ms. Menezes was a Clinical Research Coordinator at Stanford University, working with the Binns Program for Cord Blood Research. Her diverse background in research and public health has equipped her with a robust understanding of the intersections between chronic disease, microbiology, mental health, and epidemiology.

Opinions and information published by the author here on are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer or other organizations for my designated roles.

Talia Menezes, MPH

Contributing Author

Education: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Knowledge: Epidemiology, Chronic Disease

Reviewed by:

Katherine Paul, MPH

Katherine Paul, MPH is a senior project manager at a leading medical communications and publications organization. She supports multidisciplinary teams handling large-scale accounts, the deliverables of which improve health outcomes and patient well-being. Ms. Paul holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Health Promotion from Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health and passed the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) shortly after graduation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Dickinson College.

Ms. Paul previously worked at a public health non-profit where she managed all aspects of diverse health-related projects, including the implementation of a randomized controlled clinical trial on sexual health for teens with developmental disabilities, as well as the evaluation of a statewide tobacco cessation program with more than 20,000 annual cases. She has developed and delivered posters and presentations at national conferences including the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. 

Opinions and information published by the author here on are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer or other organizations for my designated roles.

Katherine Paul

Katherine Paul, MPH

Editorial Lead

Education: Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health

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