Why Environmental Chemistry could be the next best subject to study

By Mukesh Kwatra

Environmental chemistry is the study of chemical actions that take place in water, air, soil, living environments or in the surroundings where people live or work and the impact of human activities on them and vice-versa.

It is a branch of knowledge in which we study how chemicals enter the environment, what are their affects, the fate of a chemical species in nature; air, water and soil. It also studies the effects of human activities and their impacts, like overpopulation, pollution, burning fossil fuels, and deforestation. How changes like these have triggered climate change, soil erosion, poor air quality, and undrinkable water.

Environmental Chemistry includes several sub-categories such as aquatic chemistry, soil chemistry and atmospheric chemistry. We also study about contaminants, generally pollutants, which are chemical substances that are at a higher level in our environment than is required.

Why study Environmental Chemistry?

Environmental Chemistry is not a new discipline. Excellent work has been done in this field by even those whose basic education was not in chemistry. For instance, biologists observed first hand some of the less desirable consequences of using pesticides. Likewise, limnologists noticed previously normal lakes suddenly becoming choked with stinking cyano-bacteria. Scientists have also been working on why historical buildings of marbles get damaged by rain water. All these issues need to be studied in their chemical perspective.

One of the major challenges of environmental chemistry is determination of the nature and quantity of specific pollutants in the environment. The primary pollutants that account for nearly all air pollution problems are carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and particulate material. The chemical analysis of these pollutants is the vital first step in environmental chemistry research.

During these times when climate change is threatening our existence it is vital to preserve and restore the environment that is being affected by development and advancement of technology. Environmental specialists job demand is expected to grow by 8% from 2020 to 2030. According to a study, the earth’s average temperature is 1.2 degree celsius higher than pre-industrial period and 85% of the world’s population is living in the areas that are thus affected. With a significant threat on the environment and its impact on humans, the study of environmental chemistry is one of the better career choices for students.

Environmental chemistry as a subject will help the students gain knowledge and understanding of pollutants or contaminants, their impact on environment and how and what human or biological activities cause them. They can also learn about biochemistry, toxicology, public health and epidemiology. The study of these aspects will equip students to positively contribute towards betterment of environment and alongside make a bright successful career out of it. With increase in environmental problems and globlal warming effect, environmental chemistry is one of the fields where career opportunities are likely to increase in the near future.

Getting Started

Environmental chemists should preferably have a background in chemistry, including organic and biochemistry. Also useful are background in one or more related disciplines like, oceanography, ecology, biology, geology, or engineering. Knowledge of software for chemical analysis will also be helpful. The candidate who is willing to enhance his or her ability and skills in a disciplined manner is always given preference not only in this sector but elsewhere too.

Career Opportunities

Environmental chemists can work in fields with similar applications, analyze new chemicals and their impact on the environment, in education as teachers or researchers. The demand is more in the manufacturing and industrial sectors.

As an environmental chemist, the job opportunities are diverse as it is a multidisciplinary field. Students having a degree in this field can work in various sectors like education, pharma, chemical, health and safety, waste management, research and development, consultancy, biotechnology, renewable energy, healthcare, sales & marketing and many more. The federal as well as state governments give employment opportunities to environmental chemists for air, water, land management, etc.

Some of the jobs which students can apply for are as a specialist in water treatment and waste disposal, environmental assessment analyst, environmental auditor, research associate in Universities, environmental health & safety coordinator, quality assurance officer in manufacturing (food, paper, chemical, plastics, etc), as analytical specialist and more.

Besides, there is bound to be an increase in future jobs as post Pandemic there is an awareness of the threats faced from the various environmental issues and for green, cleaner technologies, prevention of pollution, protection and conservation of natural resources. Another sector that gives importance to environmental chemists is the remediation sector. Remediation is referred to as ISCR (In Situ Chemical Reduction), this technique involves adding a reducing agent to change the toxicity, solubility and/or mobility of a contaminant.

Environmental chemistry is one of the most important and very exciting field for future. The chemical sciences help us to understand and adapt to climate change, formulate the right policy decisions, give us better understanding of atmospheric and ocean chemistry, help develop new energy and carbon reduction solutions, and assist farmers to cultivate crops which adopt to the changing conditions.

The author is the founder of Smiling Tree.

Read also: Key traits of successful entrepreneurs

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