In school, we were taught about the different chemicals present in the atmosphere and how it affected the environment. This chapter in a Class IV/V science textbook has now evolved into a separate discipline altogether — environmental chemistry deals with the study of chemicals and the biochemical phenomena of nature. The field, which is interdisciplinary, involves biology, ecology, genetics, soil and water chemistry, mathematics and engineering.
The growth of industries has no doubt affected the environment. “With the advancement of science and technology, our natural resources are declining. Hence society must be motivated, particularly the young, about conservation, preservation and protection of environment. The government has already taken steps by making environmental education compulsory right from primary to secondary education,” opines Prof SK Gupta, School of Studies in Chemistry, Jiwaji University, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh.
There are no bachelor programmes in environmental chemistry. Students need to have a BSc degree in chemistry to apply for an MSc. Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Banaras Hindu University, University of Madras, University of Mumbai and Jiwaji University, Gwalior, offer MSc programmes in environmental chemistry. One can read for PhD after completing MSc.
Students can study at University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, MIT, Harvard University, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University of Toronto, Tokyo University, Japan.
Students undergo intense training in this field as it requires identification and analyses chemicals. The syllabus is also regularly updated in line with new discoveries across the globe. Some core topics include instrumental methods of chemical and pharmaceutical analysis, monitoring of various environmental problems, monitoring of different pollutants in the environment, control and treatment of different kinds of effluents.
Jobs are aplenty for environmental chemists. Various industries employ them to comply with government regulations. “Environmental chemists work to improve environmental health and safety using chemical properties of substances. They are also involved in formulating regulations to protect the environment,” says Prof SK Gupta.
Pollution control boards, waste management companies and consultancy firms also hire chemists for environment-related work. After PhD, students can move into the academia or get placed in R&D labs.
Students can also opt to work in different projects and research sessions that happen in the areas of biodiversity, environment, climate and social science, toxicology and environmental management, energy and environment, sustainable development and environmental geochemistry.
Though we talk about technical advancements, India is not equipped with resources to advance the study of the subject. Says Prof SK Gupta, “There are still challenges in this field because of an imbalance between source and sink.”