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Environmental Health Specialist Job Description, Career as an Environmental Health Specialist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Varies—see profile

Salary: $37,300 to $57,551 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Environmental health specialists monitor health and safety conditions in residential, industrial, commercial, and recreational settings. A person who works as an environmental health specialist may also be called an environmental health or safety inspector, or a health and safety specialist. The main responsibilities of the position are to determine the existence of possible health hazards and to take steps to correct them.

Most environmental safety specialists work for government agencies that monitor local, state, and federal safety and environmental regulations. This includes checking plants and factories for pollution or industrial waste; inspecting restaurants for cleanliness; and inspecting schools, day care centers, and nursing homes for harmful substances such as radon or lead paint. Environmental safety specialists also monitor how hospitals handle biological waste and ensure that swimming pools and other recreational facilities are safe for public use. Government-employed environmental safety specialists issue permits and certificates stating that a particular residence, place of business, or recreational facility has met minimum acceptable health and safety standards.

As part of the inspection process, environmental health specialists may collect samples of soil, air, water, and possible pollutants from the places they inspect. They then test the samples to determine whether there are dangerous levels of any hazardous substances. If possible health problems are discovered, the specialists draw up a plan to monitor the facility to determine the source and nature of the hazard. This may involve setting up equipment at the inspection site to monitor air or water quality and checking the records periodically to ensure that health and quality standards are met. The environmental health specialist then evaluates the success of any steps taken to resolve the problem and finds alternative solutions if necessary.

Environmental health specialists who work for private companies are responsible for keeping the firm's facilities up to government standards. They need to make sure that government inspectors who monitor the company find no problems or violations. Because the job is preventative in nature, the environmental health specialist must be aware of all the areas in which health or safety problems are likely to arise and develop plans to help employees reduce the possibility of violations. For this reason, they must be familiar with current government and industry regulations.

Education and Training Requirements

Most positions for environmental health specialists require at least a bachelor's degree. Significant course work in chemistry, biology, public health, physical sciences, as well as environmental engineering is usually needed as well. Those who want to work for the government have to complete a certification course administered by the appropriate local, state, or federal agency. Most states have licensing boards that examine potential candidates and grant certification to qualified applicants. The type of training and certification needed depends on the types of facilities being inspected. Credentialing is also available through the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA). It is possible to receive specialist certification for dealing with certain types of hazardous materials.

Getting the Job

Private companies post openings for environmental health specialists in newspaper classified sections and on Internet job search sites. Government agencies may also have job listings at local government offices.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Environmental health specialists who work for government agencies typically advance along a specified career ladder in which they receive salary increases according to a set schedule. When the top salary level is reached, further advancement leads to supervisory positions. There is a good deal of competition for these positions, which are based on the needs of the agency as well as the qualifications of the candidate.

Increasing concern for environmental health and safety is balanced by public concern for reductions in the size and regulatory power of the government. For this reason, the employment outlook for government-employed environmental safety inspectors is about average. Most job openings in government work will come as a result of retirement of existing employees or their transfer to other fields of work. The demand for environmental health specialists in private industry should grow as more companies turn toward self-enforcement of regulations to avoid government sanctions.

Working Conditions

Environmental health specialists work in a very wide range of settings. The inspection work may take place in modern homes and offices, industrial plants, private businesses, and even parks and wildlife refuges. Analysis of materials collected during inspections occurs in a laboratory setting. The job may entail exposure to potentially dangerous materials including industrial pollution, medical and nuclear waste, airborne and waterborne germs or other contaminants, and substances such as lead and asbestos.

Where to Go for More Information

Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology
5005 Newport Dr., Ste. 506
Rolling Meadows, IL 60008-3841
(847) 255-1561

National Environmental Health Association
720 S. Colorado Blvd., Ste. 970-S
Denver, CO 80246-1925
(303) 756-9090

Earnings and Benefits

The salaries of environmental health specialists depend on their levels of general education, specific training, and experience. In 2006 most salaries ranged from $37,300 to $57,551 per year. Both government positions and jobs in private industry offer paid vacation, medical, and retirement benefits.

Additional topics

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