Environmental Chemistry: Definition, Importance, Application, and Careers

Environmental chemistry is the study of how chemicals interact with the environment and human health, including the impacts they have on the air, water, and soil. Environmental chemistry examines how chemicals; natural or synthetic—behave in the air, water, soils, and sediments. It is an interdisciplinary field at the intersection of several significant scientific disciplines with a focus on cutting-edge analytical chemistry. It requires an understanding of the underlying ideas in a wide range of disciplines, such as organic chemistry, soil science, biochemistry, toxicology, and ecology. Although you would believe that environmental chemistry is primarily concerned with pollution, it is actually a subject for those who are interested in learning how the world functions.

Environmental Chemistry Definition, Importance, Application, and Careers
Environmental Chemistry Definition, Importance, Application, and Careers

Moreover, the scientific study of chemical and biological phenomena that take place in the environment is environmental chemistry. Environmental chemistry is a field of research that includes more than just chemicals, soil, water, and air. This field applies a variety of methods from biology, arithmetic, engineering, genetics, hydrology, toxicology, etc. to find answers to all environmental-related queries. Along with more diversified fields like epidemiology, biochemistry, biology, public health, and toxicology, environmental chemistry also includes elements of analytical chemistry, physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and organic chemistry.

What is Environment?

The term “environment” describes a thing or an organism’s surroundings. It includes everything around us, both living and nonliving. There are living and nonliving elements in the environment. The term “living component” refers to all living organisms, such as animals, plants, and microorganisms. The non-living elements include things like air, water, temperature, soil, and everything else that has an impact on us in some way. Environmental studies examine all of the social, economic, biological, physical, and chemical interactions between humans and their environment.

What is Environmental Chemistry?

The study of the origin, movement, reactions, outcomes, and fates of chemical species in the environment is known as environmental chemistry. It is responsible for figuring out how the unpolluted environment works and developing environmentally friendly methods of sustainable development.

Environmental chemistry is the branch of chemistry that studies the production, transport, reactions, effects, and fates of chemical species in water, air, terrestrial, and biological environments, as well as the effects of human activities on these environments.

Comprehending the functioning of the natural environment, the chemicals that are present there naturally, their quantities, and the effects they have is the first step in understanding environmental chemistry. Without it, it would be hard to thoroughly research how chemicals released by humans affect the environment.

All of these can be incorporated into the study of the influence of chemicals on the natural environment. Environmental chemistry is a multidisciplinary field that includes the following fields of study:

  • Geology
  • Biology
  • Ecology (the study of ecosystems)
  • Toxicology (the study of adverse effects of chemicals on living organisms)
  • Hydrology (the study of water)

All of these are inclusive in the study of the influence of chemicals on the natural environment.

Importance of Environmental Chemistry

Due to its connections to environmental impact, pollutants, environmental management, and the reduction of contamination, environmental chemistry is of high value. Numerous creatures, including humans, are exposed to environmental chemicals and rely on many of these substances that are regarded as nutrients. Volcanoes, forest fires, and lake flooding all contributed significantly to the contamination. Indirectly or directly, organisms have a role in the dispersion of unwelcome environmental substances to some extent. The majority of substances that exist in nature are poisonous.

  • Analyzing how chemicals behave in a particular region as well as in the overall environment is vital to comprehend and study the effects of chemicals on the environment. The environment is divided into various sections to address the diversity of natural systems. These are regarded as the components of the actual surroundings that are enclosed by a line dividing them from the outside world.
  • The physicochemical characteristics of the chemicals as well as the attributes of environmental compartments describe how they behave in the environment. These two characteristics give insight on the mechanisms underlying chemical and biological processes like hydrolysis, biodegradation, photolysis, and phase transfer processes like sorption and air-water exchange.
  • Hydrosphere, sediment, atmosphere, biota, soil, and groundwater are the significant environmental compartments, and it is their significant characteristics and processes that control how chemical pollutants behave. Metal speciation, degradation, and transformation of organic compounds, as well as processes that affect the bioavailability of metals and organic pollutants, are some of the significant environmental processes.
  • Examining and addressing environmental challenges is one of the main goals of environmental science. To this end, scientists are examining two key types of relationships between people and the environment. How we use natural resources, such water and plants, is one area of concern.

Environmental pollution

Environmental pollution is the result of unfavorable changes in our environment that have a negative impact on humans, animals, and plants. Pollutants are substances that harm the environment. Pollutants can be solid, liquid, or gaseous substances that are more concentrated than they are in their natural abundance and are produced by either human activity or by natural occurrences.

Composition of the Atmosphere

Around 79% of the bulk of the Earth’s atmosphere includes nitrogen gas (N2), while 20% is oxygen (O2), 0.9% is argon (Ar), 0.035% is carbon dioxide (CO2), and the remaining portion is various trace gases. Water vapor is another changeable component of the atmosphere, with concentrations varying from 0.01% in freezing air to 5% in the humid tropical air. Concentrations of air contaminants including ozone and nitrogen dioxide are between 1000 and 10,000 times lower.

Above the troposphere lies the stratosphere. The daily solar cycle has little impact on this layer. The ozone layer, which extends to an altitude of about 50 km and can shield life on Earth from UV radiation, is part of the stratosphere. The thermosphere and mesosphere are the layers that lie within the next 50 km.

Atmosphere [Environmental Chemistry]

Application of Environmental Chemistry

Some of the major applications of environmental chemistry are:

  • Groundwater that has been contaminated by soil, dust, and waste materials is protected using environmental chemistry.
  • Environmental Chemistry carefully examines each chemical’s risk characteristics in order to provide a solution for environmental safety.
  • Industrial poisoning of land with heavy metals. These can then be brought into bodies of water where live things can absorb them.
  • Leaching nutrients from agricultural land into waterways, which can cause eutrophication and algal blooms.
  • It is used to research novel items and how they affect the environment.
  • Environmental chemical techniques, such as the use of ecotoxicological and chemical indicators, are used to safeguard soil quality.
  • Through the processes of sedimentation, bacteriological, and radiation, it helps to protect surface water from pollution.
  • Waste Management and Cleaner Production are two areas where environmental chemistry is used.

Topics in Environmental Chemistry

Environmental Pollution: We will learn what constitutes environmental pollution as well as its causes, various forms of pollution, and more.

Atmospheric Pollution: Here we discuss more about the causes of pollution at the stratospheric and tropospheric levels

Water Pollution: We study about the causes of water pollution and the requirements for safe drinking water.

Soil Pollution: We get more knowledge about how pesticides, fungicides, weedicides, and herbicides cause soil pollution.

Industrial Waste: This section deals how industries pollute the environment.

Environmental Pollution Solutions: This section discusses ways to reduce environmental pollution. Additionally, this section also includes waste management

Green Chemistry: We will learn how to lessen the reliance on chemicals and dangerous substances through the study of “green chemistry.”

Career Prospects of Environmental Chemist

Students can find employment in a wide range of public and private sector positions after earning a degree in this field. Nearly every branch of environmental science is in desperate need of experts, as environmental conservation is turning into a pressing issue. Analyzing air, water, and soil pollution, creating reports of assessments, assisting in the improvement of production processes, and developing remediation programs are just a few of the key responsibilities of environmental chemists. Some of the key job profiles in this field for your consideration are:

  • Climate Change Specialist
  • Analytical Chemist
  • Biometrician
  • Chemical Technician
  • Pollution Contol Technologist
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Environmental Epidemiologist
  • Oceanographer
  • Biological Technician
  • Air Quality Analyst
  • Environmental Consultant
  • Field Specialist/Researcher
  • Hydrogeochemist
  • Hydrologist
  • Water Quality Specialist


  • Williams, Ian. Environmental Chemistry, A Modular Approach. Wiley. 2001. ISBN0-471-48942-5
  • vanLoon, Gary W.; Duffy, Stephen J. (2000). Environmental Chemistry. Oxford: Oxford. pp. 7. ISBN 0-19-856440-6.
  • Harrison, R.M (edited by). Understanding Our Environment, An Introduction to Environmental Chemistry and Pollution, Third Edition. Royal Society of Chemistry. 1999. ISBN 0-85404-584-8
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  • https://www.askiitians.com/iit-jee-chemistry/organic-chemistry/environmental -chemistry/
  • https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-environmental-chemistry-topics-definition.html
  • https://career.du.edu/blog/2020/07/15/chemistry-environmental-chemistry-and-environmental-science/

About Author

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Jyoti Bashyal

Jyoti Bashyal is an enthusiastic researcher currently working in the field of computational chemistry. She is currently enrolled in a Master’s degree program in Chemistry at Tribhuvan University. As a writer, she relishes creative writing and believes in hard work with a positive mindset.

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