Environmental Health Specialists
The health and safety of everyone depends on environmental health specialists, also known as sanitarians, who enforce government regulations regarding food, water, waste, and sewage. They are also concerned with hazards presented by such things as radioactive contamination and the pollution in the atmosphere. These scientists also work to discover what conditions make people sick and how to prevent the spread of illness.
Duties, Activities, and Scope of Practice
In the health care environment, the safe disposal of medical waste comes under the control of environmental health specialists. Some of the areas concerned here include the safe disposal of sharps such as needles and syringes, soiled dressings, blood and bodily fluid samples, and the chemicals and radioactive products needed for x-rays and other diagnostic tests.
Entry-level sanitarians perform inspections and report findings. The more experienced sanitarians are involved in consulting services and educating clients as well as the general public.
Safe food and water supplies in health care settings are a vital aspect of public health. Sanitarians oversee the safety of water, food, sewage, and waste in all public arenas to help protect the public health and ensure safety for all.
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree in environmental engineering or environmental health is required. Many new and evolving positions in this field require advanced degrees.
The curriculum includes chemistry, physics, biology, microbiology, mathematics, biostatistics, environmental health and studies, communication, epidemiology, and behavioral sciences. It also incorporates fieldwork.
Most states require certification, but requirements vary. Contact your state government agency for specifics. Certification and registration testing and credentialing are offered through the National Environmental Health Association.
Work Settings and Salaries
The majority of these professionals work for state and local public health departments. Others work in the private sector, such as for private hospitals and clinics, and for the public through uniformed services such as fire and police and homeland security agencies.
Salaries vary as much as the workplace and job responsibilities, but the general range is between $25,000 and $50,000 and can exceed $100,000 in some instances.
Career Potential and Additional Information
As terrorism, flu pandemic threats, and biohazards continue to be front-page news, the need for more environmental health scientists will continue to grow very rapidly. The public's growing concern with global-warming effects and pollution of the planet as well as the atmosphere will keep these professionals busy for many years to come. Technology advances and changing threats will continue to bring changes to the roles these professionals play and how they conduct research and perform their jobs.
For more information about career potential as an environmental health scientist, contact the National Environmental Health Association. Their Web site is