Is a Career as an Air Quality Engineer Right for You?

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Environmental Engineering

Two people looking at a series of graphs.

Clean air is vital to public health. However, the worldwide prevalence of anthropogenic pollution means most people regularly inhale particulates and other contaminants that threaten their well-being. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 99% of the world’s population breathes in air that exceeds the organization’s global air quality guideline limits and contains high levels of pollutants.

The consequences are vast. Outdoor air pollution such as carbon monoxide and particles from combusted fossil fuels are WHO-classified carcinogens, and up to 7 million deaths result from air pollution each year. In addition to cancer (especially of the lungs), unclean air can lead to a wide range of other life-threatening medical conditions, including stroke and heart disease.

Ensuring clean air is integral to both human health and environmental sustainability. Air quality engineers perform essential work toward realizing this goal, and you can pursue a career as one by earning a Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) from the University of California, Riverside (UCR).

What Does an Air Quality Engineer Do?

Also known as air pollution control engineers, air quality engineers are environmental engineers who focus on minimizing air pollution. Their overall objective is to promote clean and breathable air via technical, regulatory, and advisory mechanisms. They can work in the public sector or private industry.

While their specific duties depend on where they work, air quality engineers have several general responsibilities. They use tools and techniques such as computer modeling, statistical analysis, and chemical analysis to assess the level of pollution in the air. They then develop strategies to reduce pollutants and improve the air’s breathability. Air quality improvement solutions depend on the work environment. Engineers who monitor factories that produce toxic chemicals, for instance, may design the ventilation infrastructure necessary for clearing contaminants and minimizing exposure.

Air quality engineers may also help ensure compliance with government-mandated emissions standards. One way they do this is by helping construction companies in the permit application process, including assisting in the documentation of a project’s environmental impacts. They must also be adept at understanding specialized regulations that may be enforced on a local level.

In addition to emissions permitting, air quality engineers also assist with the assessment of air control systems and sources of pollution, negotiations with regulatory agencies, and supervising other workers.

Air quality engineers often review reports, such as test results, and communicate the findings to project stakeholders and government agencies. Depending on seniority, they may also oversee on-site work projects to ensure compliance.

Air Quality Engineer Salary and Requirements

Becoming an air quality engineer is a great way to contribute to cleaner air for everyone while earning above-average compensation. According to Payscale, the median annual salary for an air quality engineer was more than $82,000 as of November 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups air quality engineers under environmental engineers, who had a median salary of $96,820 in 2021.

The BLS also estimates 4% growth in environmental engineer employment between 2021 and 2031, which is consistent with the projected job growth rate for the average profession. This projection indicates a steady need for air quality engineers over the next decade. State, local, and federal government agencies are expected to sustain much of the demand for environmental engineers in the years ahead as they focus their efforts on cleaner air and water.

A bachelor’s degree is usually required to become an air quality engineer or any type of environmental engineer. An advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Engineering, can open up wider career opportunities, including roles in research and development. Additionally, some employers may require an advanced degree for senior or managerial positions.

Prospective air quality engineers should also gain environmental engineering experience prior to pursuing the profession. They can accomplish this through internships during their studies, which offer the chance to translate classroom knowledge into practical experience within a controlled and monitored environment.

Types of Air Quality Engineer Jobs

The complexities of air quality mean that there is a wide range of specialized jobs in the field. The job descriptions for each of these roles vary, but they all share a common goal of improving air quality.

Some of the jobs in air quality engineering include:

  • Air quality analysts develop and implement assessment strategies to measure air quality standards and ensure compliance with federal, state, and local regulations.
  • Government air quality engineers design and manage air quality improvements and solutions in a government capacity. Air quality engineers employed by the government may work for a government agency or a branch of the military.
  • Air quality modelers use sophisticated computer programs to predict the impact of specific pollutants on a geographic location.

Make a Difference For the Future

Clean air is crucial to health, yet it can be difficult to maintain. This is why air quality engineers play such a vital role. By assessing pollution levels, monitoring compliance, and developing solutions to improve air quality, their work is critical to ensuring that the air we breathe is safe.

The University of California, Riverside’s Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) program can help you become an expert in both the technical and managerial sides of engineering. Our 100% online program delivers a comprehensive curriculum in a flexible format, with expedited completion possible in only 13 months. Choose from eight concentrations, including environmental engineering. To learn more about your online engineering degree options, visit the main program page and request a free copy of the MSE brochure.

Recommended Readings

5 Careers for Environmental Engineering Grads

How Air Quality Engineers Help With Air Pollution Control

What Is Clean Energy?


Payscale, Average Air Quality Engineer Salary

Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, Air Quality Planner/Analyst – Assistant/Associate

United States Environmental Protection Agency, Air Emissions Monitoring for Permits

United States Environmental Protection Agency, Air Quality Modeling

United States Environmental Protection Agency, Introduction to Indoor Air Quality

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Engineers

World Health Organization, Air Pollution

World Health Organization, WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines: Particulate Matter (PM2.5 and PM10), Ozone, Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulfur Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide