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Environmental Scientists

At a Glance

  • Study environmental problems
  • Have at least a bachelor's degree
  • Have strong communication skills
  • Use computers
  • Work both indoors and outdoors

Career summary

Environmental scientists study problems in the natural world that affect the health of living things.

#checked 3/5/19 lh

Environmental scientists identify problems and work to protect the health of the environment and people. In order to make this happen, environmental scientists:

There are many government regulations to protect the environment. Environmental scientists research which standards and rules apply to each location and situation. They also plan the type of samples and tests needed to evaluate a site or project.

Environmental scientists conduct fieldwork by traveling to the sites to collect data. Using special equipment and procedures, they collect samples of soil, water, and air. They observe and record information about the site. They also talk to workers at the site.

Once the samples are collected, scientists run tests or send the samples to a testing lab. They evaluate their notes, laboratory reports, and other testing information. They compare the data to standards, such as government regulations.

Environmental scientists write reports to help clients understand what they need to do to solve their problem. The report contains information, data, and recommendations. The report may also contain tables, graphs, and maps that were drawn in the field.

There are several types of environmental scientists:

Related careers

This career is part of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to environmental scientists.

Common work activities

Environmental scientists perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, environmental scientists:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Environmental scientists frequently:

It is important for environmental scientists to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for environmental scientists to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Environmental scientists need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as an environmental scientist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

You need at least a bachelor's degree for this occupation. A degree in geology, engineering, or environmental studies is a good way to prepare. You should also take courses in geology, hydrology, and chemistry. Computer courses are very helpful.

Many environmental scientists also obtain a master's degree. They may choose to specialize in an area, such as environmental chemistry or environmental ecology. In a graduate program you learn how to plan and conduct research. You also gain valuable problem-solving experience.

Work experience

While in college, some environmental scientists gain experience by working in school laboratories. Summer internships are also a great way to gain work experience.

On-the-job training

Employers usually provide training for employees working with and around environmental contaminants. Many states require environmental workers to be certified. Certification courses usually take place during a 40-hour training week. You learn about chemical exposure risks and ways to prevent injuries. You may also receive first aid training. The length of training varies by employer, but usually lasts under six months.

Some environmental scientists may also receive additional training in the use of special equipment.

Military training

The military does not provide initial training in this field. However, the military may provide work experience to environmental scientists who have a master's degree or higher.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements. Environmental scientists use math and science frequently. Try to take math classes through Calculus and science classes through Physics.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers look for applicants who have a bachelor's degree. They look for environmental scientists that have strong oral and written communication skills. They also look for applicants that can solve problems and work well on a team.

Costs to workers

Some workers join professional associations, which may have annual dues.


Some states require that scientists performing geologic hazard evaluations be registered. Requirements varies by state.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Environmental scientists and specialists, including health (SOC 19-2041)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $25.58 $30.28 $37.61 $49.74 $61.39
Monthly $4,433 $5,248 $6,518 $8,620 $10,639
Yearly $53,210 $62,990 $78,230 $103,460 $127,690
    Bellingham Hourly $24.84 $27.22 $30.48 $36.27 $53.46
Monthly $4,305 $4,717 $5,282 $6,286 $9,265
Yearly $51,648 $56,614 $63,393 $75,443 $111,208
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $27.53 $32.47 $39.96 $48.01 $54.00
Monthly $4,771 $5,627 $6,925 $8,320 $9,358
Yearly $57,271 $67,538 $83,126 $99,859 $112,319
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $27.54 $32.72 $45.33 $61.42 $76.40
Monthly $4,773 $5,670 $7,856 $10,644 $13,240
Yearly $57,276 $68,054 $94,274 $127,760 $158,908
    Longview Hourly $26.83 $29.80 $34.21 $37.83 $40.35
Monthly $4,650 $5,164 $5,929 $6,556 $6,993
Yearly $55,810 $61,991 $71,148 $78,680 $83,937
    Mount Vernon-Anacortes Hourly $22.02 $25.56 $31.13 $37.04 $43.41
Monthly $3,816 $4,430 $5,395 $6,419 $7,523
Yearly $45,801 $53,158 $64,764 $77,060 $90,296
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $23.55 $27.53 $31.91 $34.98 $40.87
Monthly $4,081 $4,771 $5,530 $6,062 $7,083
Yearly $48,988 $57,266 $66,369 $72,756 $85,001
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $27.61 $33.61 $43.58 $54.06 $63.50
Monthly $4,785 $5,825 $7,552 $9,369 $11,005
Yearly $57,426 $69,904 $90,646 $112,439 $132,072
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $23.75 $27.54 $31.91 $32.72 $37.82
Monthly $4,116 $4,773 $5,530 $5,670 $6,554
Yearly $49,385 $57,278 $66,367 $68,057 $78,655
    Vancouver Hourly $26.58 $29.97 $38.07 $45.73 $54.39
Monthly $4,606 $5,194 $6,598 $7,925 $9,426
Yearly $55,297 $62,346 $79,185 $95,130 $113,136
    Walla Walla Hourly $21.55 $29.69 $37.94 $45.46 $46.66
Monthly $3,735 $5,145 $6,575 $7,878 $8,086
Yearly $44,817 $61,742 $78,905 $94,561 $97,042
    Yakima Hourly $23.74 $26.19 $31.28 $32.72 $36.10
Monthly $4,114 $4,539 $5,421 $5,670 $6,256
Yearly $49,374 $54,471 $65,058 $68,054 $75,084
United States Hourly $20.44 $25.76 $34.20 $45.47 $59.91
Monthly $3,542 $4,464 $5,927 $7,880 $10,382
Yearly $42,520 $53,580 $71,130 $94,590 $124,620

Wages vary by level of education. Scientists who have a master's degree earn more than those who have a bachelor's degree. Those who have a PhD earn more than those who have a master's degree. In general, salaries are highest for those working in private industry and lowest for those working for colleges or universities.

Environmental scientists who work full time usually receive benefits. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, and health insurance. Some employers also provide a retirement plan.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health (SOC 19-2041)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 3,128 26.2% 16.1% 483
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 12 0.0% 13.4% 1
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 46 13.0% 8.6% 6
    Benton and Franklin Counties 377 14.9% 15.0% 47
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 113 15.9% 11.9% 15
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 126 63.5% 15.2% 31
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 367 13.4% 14.1% 45
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 143 32.9% 14.6% 24
    King County 1,307 34.3% 19.6% 228
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 140 23.6% 13.8% 20
    Pierce County 284 20.4% 15.2% 39
    Snohomish County 135 23.7% 12.4% 20
    Spokane County 69 5.8% 13.9% 7
United States 85,000 8.2% 5.2% 10,300

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for environmental scientists will be strong as concerns about the environment continue to grow. Much of the growth will be in private consulting firms. Scientists who work in these firms help companies determine environmental impact for projects such as new buildings or factories.

Demand will also occur as companies try to reduce their impact on the environment by reducing pollution and other hazardous wastes.

Job openings will occur due to people moving to management positions or retiring.

Other resources

Air and Waste Management Association (external link)
Koppers Building
436 Seventh Avenue, Suite 2100
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (external link)
147 Old Solomons Island Road, Suite 303
Annapolis, MD 21401
American Chemical Society (external link)
1155 Sixteenth Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
American Fisheries Society (external link)
425 Barlow Place, Suite 110
Bethesda, MD 20814-2144
American Geophysical Union (external link)
2000 Florida Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20009
American Geosciences Institute (external link)
4220 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22302
American Institute of Biological Sciences (external link)
1800 Alexander Bell Drive, Suite 400
Reston, VA 20191
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (external link)
4420 West Lincoln Way
Ames, IA 50014
Ecological Society of America (external link)
1990 M Street NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036
Environmental Career Center (external link)
P.O. Box 3387
Hampton, Virginia 23663
Environmental Protection Agency (external link)
Park Place Building
1200 - 6th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101
Explore Ecology as a Career (external link)
Explore Health Careers: Environmental Health Practitioner (external link)
Explore Health Careers: Food Safety Specialist (external link)
Marinecareers.net (external link)
National Academy of Sciences Interviews (external link)
National Garden Clubs (external link)
4401 Magnolia Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63110
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (external link)
1401 Constitution Avenue NW, Room 5128
Washington, DC 20230
National Science Foundation (external link)
2415 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, Virginia 2231
Seaweb Aquaculture Clearing House (external link)
Society for Ecological Restoration (external link)
1133 15th St. NW, Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20005
Society for Range Management (external link)
6901 South Pierce Street, Suite 230
Littleton, CO 80128
Soil and Water Conservation Society (external link)
945 SW Ankeny Road
Ankeny, IA 50023
Technology Student Association (external link)
1904 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1540


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupation

Holland occupational cluster