KOCHI: Are you a student of science, chemistry to be precise? Then there is one more option awaiting you career-wise. Environmental chemists are much sought after these days.
Any industry that is being set up needs an environment officer to ensure that the company does not cause any damage to the surroundings. Even an IT firm has officers to monitor the environment.
The basic qualification is graduation or post-graduation in chemistry with environmental sciences as an additional qualification.
The job of an environmental chemist involves knowledge of actions and reactions of chemicals on the surrounding. What happens to chemicals in an industrial cleaner when poured into the sink? How does the black smoke emanating from the chimney at an industrial complex affect the atmosphere? These are questions environmental chemists seek to answer.
The use of chemicals and their effects on the environment are matters of increasing concern to specialists in environmental management. It involves a study of areas where chemicals show up as in streams, rivers, and air.
Such pollution contains molecules that have not been removed at water treatment plants, caught by the filters in industrial chimneys or not disposed of properly.
As concerns about geochemistry and the natural environment increase, environmental chemists also study the processes that affect chemicals in the environment. These chemists examine the changes caused in the chemicals and the environment as they interact.
With industry taking on an increasingly proactive approach to environmental management, chemistry’s role will continue to grow. For many chemical companies, this may involve redeveloping a chemical product and come up with functional groups or compounds that are more compatible with the environment.
As waste disposal has become increasingly expensive, industries have also become more interested in finding ways to solve waste problems. Solutions involve making industrial processes more efficient and cost-effective. In addition, environmental chemists study the effects of chemicals other than pollutants on the environment.
Because our environment is so complex, environmental chemists have to underscore the interdisciplinary nature of their field. Environmental chemists must be able to understand and use the terminology of a range of other disciplines, including biology, geology, ecology, sedimentology, mineralogy, genetics, soil and water chemistry, maths, and engineering. They may be involved in analytical testing, product development in the lab, field work with users of chemicals, and safety and regulatory issues.
Environmental management is becoming a popular career track. Students who hold degrees in environmental sciences can find jobs in the chemical industry, often working alongside geologists, biologists, and chemists.
Most environmental chemists emphasise that a solid foundation in chemistry is important for this work. Chemistry students interested in applying their training to an environmentally-oriented job are encouraged to take courses in environmental studies.
Environmental chemists come from various backgrounds. Companies often hire graduates from schools with well-established programmes. Employers also look for candidates who demonstrate the ability to broaden their skills and think in an interdisciplinary manner. Course work in subjects such as biology, geology, hydrology, or toxicology would be indications of such abilities.
Because of the increased government regulations, job opportunities for environmental chemists is growing. Despite downsizing, companies are placing greater emphasis on compliance and environmental processes. Opportunities exist for chemists to move into various areas of expertise outside a traditional job in the lab. For those studying law, business, or public policy, opportunities can be found in the regulatory area as well as in health and safety.