Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
While the rest of us bemoan the damage we’ve done to our planet, environmental engineers actually do something about it. From designing wastewater treatment plants to mopping up hazmat spills, they’re paid (rather handsomely) to clean up other people’s messes. And we live in a messy world.
Lisa Denmark, an environmental engineer with the EPA, oversees cleanup of federal Superfund (polluted) sites throughout the mid-Atlantic region, work that includes taking water samples from nearby homes, informing residents about contaminants, and overseeing contractors completing the physical cleanup. In previous positions, she’s handled spills ranging from mercury to milk (yes, milk; it was in a river) and gathered soil, water, and air samples from chemical tanks to wastewater ponds.
“You name it, I’ve probably been up to my knees in it,” Denmark says. Sexy? No. Though her work often takes place outdoors, it isn’t usually in unspoiled or even very pretty places. But Denmark finds satisfaction in leaving the land better than she found it.
“I have something to do with people having safe air to breathe and water to drink, and ensuring their kids are playing in clean dirt,” she says.
Pay $83,000 Prerequisites At least a bachelor’s degree, ideally a master’s Perks Save the world Problems Bureaucracy Prospects 61,400 jobs by 2022 (+15%)