Environmental Health Careers: What They Are and How to Start

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If you’re interested in environmental health you’ll be happy to know there are many careers you can pursue. Check out these top options to get started.

[Featured Image]: A health worker, with black hair, wearing a white uniform and blue goggles, and a person with black hair, wearing a white uniform and blue goggles. They are working in a lab, holding, writing and analyzing an experiment.

Careers in environmental health involve studying the environment, how it affects humans, and taking the necessary steps to help prevent disease and other health issues. Those steps could include identifying asthma triggers, solving a water pollution crisis, or working to stop a worldwide health crisis. It’s an exciting career field in which you can make a real difference. This article outlines what you might do as an environmental health practitioner (EHP), how to become one, what salary you might expect, and more.

What exactly is environmental health?

Environmental health incorporates all the external forces that impact human health, including air, food, water, and hazardous materials. Poor environments often lead to poor health for the people in them, which is why environmental health practitioners are vital to public health.

Research from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health revealed that environmental health is among the UK's strongest career options in the post-pandemic world. Approximately 88 per cent of environmental health graduates get employed or move into advanced studies within six months of graduating [1]. 

By opting to work in this field, you could become a scientist or science professional who studies how humans interact with the world. You’ll use your technical skills and knowledge to develop, implement, and enforce policies related to people’s health and well-being. 

Several topics fall under the scope of environmental health. Some of the more prominent ones include:  

  • Air and water quality and safety

  • Climate and health relationships 

  • Environmental protection and response to disasters

  • Food safety and food standards

  • Health practices related to the military

  • Housing health issues, like preventing lead poisoning 

  • Noise control

  • Occupational health and safety

  • Pollution control

  • Public health

  • Sanitation

  • Waste management

Many environmental health careers usually fit into one of five categories. They are:

  • Environmental science: The general study of how the human body reacts to various aspects of the environment

  • Environmental engineering: The practice of improving or maintaining the environment to enhance or protect human health

  • Environmental law: Creating or opposing laws and regulations that impact human health or create ecological concerns

  • Toxicology: The study of how exposure to toxins affects the human body or a large population

  • Environmental epidemiology: The study of how the environment impacts the occurrence and spread of disease

The World Health Organization breaks environmental health down into six specific themes:

• Outdoor air quality

• Ground and surface water quality

• Hazardous waste and toxic substances

• Homes and communities

• Infrastructure and surveillance

• Global environmental health


What does an environmental health professional do?

Much of the role of an environmental health professional falls into two categories: prevention or response, no matter the subspecialty of environmental health. The prevention side might include teaching prevention or helping to create laws to prevent health hazards in the community. On the response side, you might seek ways to slow or stop a health hazard that has already occurred within a community or determine the cause of an environmental threat at a particular location. 

Environmental scientists or specialists usually work to analyse a specific problem and devise a solution for it. Day-to-day tasks could include:

  • Conducting business inspections to ensure they meet required health and safety standards

  • Conducting investigations regarding outbreaks, including infectious diseases and pests 

  • Gathering samples for laboratory testing to ensure air and water quality or as part of the inspection process 

  • Advising, educating, and enforcing environmental health laws

  • Devising a plan to solve a problem or prevent future threats

  • Investigating accidents at work or complaints from the general public

  • Giving talks to educate specific communities about environmental threats and preventative measures

  • Monitoring radiation activity and taking appropriate action as needed

  • Analysing collected data to write records and reports

  • Advising on all environmental health matters based on research and experiments

How to become an environmental health professional

Becoming an environmental health professional requires immersion in the field of environmental health. It might also involve gaining hands-on experience through an internship or entry-level job or earning specific certifications. Here are some general steps to help you get into the field. 

Get the proper education 

To become a qualified EHP in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, you must first obtain an honours degree or master’s in environmental health from a university accredited by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH). In Scotland, you’d look for accreditation from The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS).

If you studied another subject or have equivalent qualifications and experience, you may also be able to enrol in an accredited postgraduate course. Apprenticeships may also allow you to mix your education and practical work experience.

Work in the field

Once you have earned your degree, you will also need real-world environmental health experience. The CIEH expects candidates to spend six months working in the field on their portfolio. The portfolio demonstrating interventions in each area of environmental health needs to be supported by a workplace supervisor.

Within the UK, you can find environmental health jobs with employers including:

  • Local governmental bodies in charge of issues like environmental protection, public health, and housing conditions

  • National government agencies such as the NHS, the Environment Agency, Foods Standards Agency. Health and Safety Executive, and Scottish Environment Protection Agency

  • Supermarkets, retailers, and hotel chains

  • Holiday companies that travel to foreign locations

  • The Courts

  • A business office with a need to comply with workplace safety concerns

  • The armed forces

Sit for a professional discussion

To complete your qualification, you must also do a professional discussion with experienced EHPs. Typically, they will give you hypothetical environmental health scenarios in a video conference. You will have to discuss how you would address those issues drawing on your education and professional experience.

Like an oral exam, this professional discussion tests your scientific knowledge and technical understanding, your ability to communicate effectively, and your decision-making skills.

Continue your professional development

As with your education, any certifications you need will vary by job. However, some environmental health certifications look good on a resume and may help you break into a specific area of environmental health. You might take trainings offered by CIEH, colleges, or private companies in subjects including:  

  • Food safety and hygiene  

  • HACCP changes  

  • Allergen and anaphylaxis awareness 

  • HMO enforcement

  • Health and safety 

  • Waste management

  • Food allergen enforcement

  • COVID-19 awareness 

  • Commercial gas safety

  • Pest control

  • Asbestos awareness

  • Noise nuisances

Important skills required for environmental health specialists

Degrees, work experience, and certifications can be helpful in getting environmental health jobs. Additionally, a certain number of workplace skills to impress prospective employers will be beneficial. 


Knowledge and background in natural sciences

A background in natural sciences is a must for environmental health professionals. If you're in school or college, and you know you want this career path, take as many courses as possible and even look for volunteer opportunities or internships. Natural sciences are those that deal with natural matter and energy on Earth. The field usually includes biology, chemistry, earth sciences like geology and oceanography, physics, and space sciences, like astronomy. 

Persuasive communication

When environmental scientists and specialists make discoveries, they have to share them with various people. They may write technical reports for other scientists, creating presentations to provide to the general public. They may need to report their findings to government officials. But they must do it in such a way that they persuade their audience to take action in response to the information. 

Deductive and inductive reasoning

Deductive reasoning starts with a premise or theory, proven true or false through observation and experimentation. Inductive reasoning involves taking specific information and making generalisations based on the data. Both are essential parts of working in the environmental health field. 

Service orientation (focus on helping people)

Anyone entering the environmental health field should want to help others, whether to improve the lives of others, a particular community, or the entire world. After all, the primary purpose of the job is to determine how to improve the lives of others.

 Critical thinking 

As with any science career, you'll need to be a critical thinker, to analyse data and find patterns. You'll need to take everything you learn or observe and find a way to solve or prevent a problem by thinking critically.  

Ability to work in varied environments

As an EHP, you may have to work in difficult working conditions. Those conditions could include dirty, loud, infested, or hazardous environments. You could also have to work in stressful and confrontational situations.

Where do environmental health professionals work?

Environmental health professionals work in a variety of locations. You may need to be onsite in the field, or you could be working in an office environment. You may also need to conduct research in a lab or the field.   

In a lab or the field 

Whatever EHP path you choose, you may find yourself working in a lab, the field, or some variety of the two. For example, you may spend time in the field collecting water samples from a specific area and take them back to a lab to analyse and conduct experiments. Or you may need to be onsite in the field to check standards are being met or to survey constituents about conditions. 

In the office

Working for a local authority or government agency, you may work behind the scenes to ensure public policies and laws are followed or to help determine the steps necessary to protect the public from various issues. Working in the private sector, you might spend a lot of time in the office implementing or creating corporate policies and conducting research, testing, and experiments related to products or services. 


Career outlook and salary expectations

The outlook for environmental health practitioners is good in the UK. Along with jobs with local authorities, government agencies, the armed forces, and environmental consultancies, private sector opportunities are also growing. The COVID-19 pandemic helped to shine a spotlight on environmental health in a new way too. In January 2023, an environmental health officer could expect an average base salary of £42,845 [2]. 

Popular opportunities for environmental health professionals 

While many people who choose to study environmental health and desire a career in the field go on to become environmental health scientists or specialists, many other career options are available in this industry. 

*Salary data is from Glassdoor UK, January 2023.

Environmental Engineers 

Environmental engineers combine a background in engineering with concepts like biology, chemistry, and soil science to solve ecological problems. Problems they address might include cleaning up drinking water, climate change, controlling pollution, or finding a better way to dispose of waste. The base pay for environmental engineers in the UK averages £36,574. 


Hydrologists focus only on water. They study rain, snow, groundwater, surface water, and the water cycle to determine how it impacts the environment in a particular area. They can help increase access to water in specific regions or ensure a population has clean drinking water. The base pay for hydrologists in the UK averages £34,597. 

Protection Technicians

Protection Technicians typically monitor a part of the environment to ensure nothing impacts human health. In the case of pollution or other problems, they'll investigate and prepare reports based on their findings. The average base pay for protection technicians in the UK averages £31,271.

Want to discover more about environmental health?

If you're thinking about entering a career in environmental health or already working in the industry and want to broaden your knowledge, consider taking an online course to deepen your understanding and help guide your interests. You'll find related courses offered by some of the top universities in the world, such as Environmental Health: the Foundation of Global Public Health on Coursera. 

Article sources


Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. “Research Shows Environmental Health is One of the Best Career Options in a Post-COVID World, https://www.cieh.org/news/press-releases/2020/research-shows-environmental-health-is-one-of-the-best-career-options-in-a-post-covid-world-england/.” Accessed January 3, 2023.

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