Environmental engineers are the technical professionals who identify and design solutions for environmental problems.
Environmental engineers provide safe drinking water, treat and properly dispose of wastes, maintain air quality, control water pollution and remediate sites contaminated due to spills or improper disposal of hazardous substances. They monitor the quality of the air, water and land. And, they develop new and improved ways to protect the environment.
Environmental engineers possess the scientific, mathematical and technical knowledge to identify, design, build, and operate systems that make modern society possible.
In addition, the environmental engineering field and environmental engineering education are multi-disciplinary. They involve traditional engineering components such as mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry and engineering design. But environmental engineering education and practice also involves a range of other disciplines such as biology, microbiology, ecology, public health, geology, meteorology, economics and political science.
Below are descriptions of some of the subdisciplines you'll find in Environmental Engineering. Click the links to find out more about your area of interest.
Air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, lead, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur oxides come from cars, industry, homes, schools and a variety of other sources. These pollutants are harmful to humans as well as the environment. In addition, atmospheric ozone depletion and global climate change from increased greenhouse gas emissions are severely threatening the world ecosystem. Environmental engineers develop mathematical models that aid in understanding pollutant fate and transport, as well as pollution's impact. Environmental engineers develop mathematical models to predict pollutant behavior in the environment. Environmental engineers also design and develop air pollution control devices that significantly reduce or eliminate pollutants from air pollution sources. The catalytic converter in cars, for example, utilizes metal catalysts to reduce nitrogen oxide and oxidize hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide in the exhaust of cars. Other techniques have also been implemented to reduce the emission of pollutants from cars including engine modifications, and fuel system modifications.
Groundwater is an important resource to protect and manage because it is a significant source of drinking water for many people, and it connects to surface water sources. Groundwater contamination has become a serious national problem. Environmental engineers develop, model, protect and manage groundwater resources, as well as remediate contaminated systems.
Our society has become increasingly dependent on hazardous materials in our daily lives, from the gasoline in our cars to the feedstock chemicals used in making plastics. Environmental engineers are involved in the management of hazardous materials, including pollution prevention at the source, and in designing systems to treat and dispose of hazardous wastes.
Return to Top
Surface water is one of the world's greatest resources, yet it is at considerable risk from pollution, population growth and continual misuse. Environmental engineers work to protect, manage and restore our surface water systems. They design stream bank erosion control systems, design systems for quantifying flow and water quality, and mathematically model flow and transport of surface water.
Degradation of our environment has occurred since the beginning of humankind. Because of the human population explosion and the exploitation of vast quantities of the earths precious resources, environmental degradation has reached alarming proportions. Environmental engineers are involved in all aspects of restoring the natural balance of nature with that of human populations, from remediation hazardous waste sites to restoring natural wetlands.
Environmental engineers understand that environmental degradation comes from overuse and misuse of our natural resources. That is why it is critical that we develop new approaches and technologies for people to live more sustainably. Environmental engineers work with other disciplines to design new systems and technologies to meet this goal. Some of these include source reduction, not just for industry but for society as a whole; composting technologies for waste; innovative low-tech water and wastewater technologies; and the incorporation of renewable energy as part of environmental design.
Developing, designing, installing, and managing water treatment and wastewater treatment facilities has long been one of the major activities of environmental engineers. Drinking water treatment utilizes a variety of physical and chemical processes to provide a safe, high quality water. Both groundwater and surface water sources our used and the necessary treatment processes for each vary. Wastewater treatment of human wastewater is necessary to prevent the spread of disease and prevent harm to the environment. Wastewater treatment utilizes primarily biological and physical processes to remove contaminants, although some chemical treatment is often necessary. Industrial wastewater often contains contaminants that cannot be treated using conventional sanitary wastewater treatment methods. Industrial wastewater, therefore, is often treated at the industrial site and a variety of processes are used to treat the wastewater prior to discharging it to the municipal wastewater treatment plants.
Return to Top