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Environmental engineering is the application of science and engineering principles to improve the environment (air, water, and/or land resources), to provide healthy water, air, and land for human habitation and for other organisms, and to remediate polluted sites.
Environmental engineering involves water and air pollution control, recycling, waste disposal, and public health issues as well as a knowledge of environmental engineering law. It also includes studies on the environmental impact of proposed construction projects.
Environmental engineers conduct hazardous-waste management studies to evaluate the significance of such hazards, advise on treatment and containment, and develop regulations to prevent mishaps. Environmental engineers also design municipal water supply and industrial wastewater treatment systems as well as being concerned with local and worldwide environmental issues such as the effects of acid rain, ozone depletion, water pollution and air pollution from automobile exhausts and industrial sources.
Educational licensing requirements
To become an environmental engineer, at least a Bachelor's degree in engineering (usually civil or chemical, and more frequently environmental engineering) is required, usually followed by specialized training at the Master's or Doctoral level. Unlike traditional Engineering disciplines like Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering or Chemical Engineering, Environmental Engineering evolved as a branch of Chemical and Civil Engineering over the past several decades to deal with increasingly complex environmental challenges.
At many universities, Environmental Engineering programs follow either the Department of Civil Engineering or The Department of Chemical Engineering at Engineering faculties. Environmental "civil" engineers focus on hydrology, water resources management and water treatment plant design. Environmental "chemical" engineers, on the other hand, focus on environmental chemistry, advanced air and water treatment technologies and separation processes.
Additionally, engineers are more frequently obtaining specialized training in law ( J.D.) and are utilizing their technical expertise in the practices of Environmental engineering law.
Most jurisdictions also impose licensing and registration requirements.
Development of environmental engineering
Ever since people first recognized that their health and well-being were related to the quality of their environment, they have applied thoughtful principles to attempt to improve the quality of their environment. The ancient Harappan civilization utilized early sewers in some cities. The Romans constructed aqueducts to prevent drought and to create a clean, healthful water supply for the metropolis of Rome. In the 15th century, Bavaria created laws restricting the development and degradation of alpine country that constituted the region's water supply.
Modern environmental engineering began in London in the mid-19th century when Joseph Bazalgette designed the first major sewerage system that reduced the incidence of waterborne diseases such as cholera. The introduction of drinking water treatment and sewage treatment in industrialized countries reduced waterborne diseases from leading causes of death to rarities.
In many cases, as societies grew, actions that were intended to achieve benefits for those societies had longer-term impacts which reduced other environmental qualities. One example is the widespread application of DDT to control agricultural pests in the years following World War II. While the agricultural benefits were outstanding and crop yields increased dramatically, thus reducing world hunger substantially, and malaria was controlled better than it ever had been, numerous species were brought to the verge of extinction due to the impact of the DDT on their reproductive cycles. The story of DDT as vividly told in Rachel Carson's " Silent Spring" is considered to be the birth of the modern environmental movement and the development of the modern field of "environmental engineering."
Conservation movements and laws restricting public actions that would harm the environment have been developed by various societies for millennia. Notable examples are the laws decreeing the construction of sewers in London and Paris in the 19th century and the creation of the U.S. national park system in the early 20th century.
Briefly speaking, the main task of environmental engineering is to protect public health by protecting (from further degradation), preserving (the present condition of), and enhancing the environment.
Scope of environmental engineering
Pollutants may be chemical, biological, thermal, radioactive, or even mechanical. Environmental engineering emphasizes several areas: process engineering, environmental chemistry, water and sewage treatment ( sanitary engineering), waste reduction/management, and pollution prevention/cleanup. Environmental engineering is a synthesis of various disciplines, incorporating elements from the following:
- Agricultural engineering
- Civil engineering
- Chemical engineering
- Public health
- Mechanical engineering
Environmental engineering is the application of science and engineering principles to the environment. Some consider environmental engineering to include the development of sustainable processes. There are several divisions of the field of environmental engineering.
Environmental impact assessment and mitigation
In this division, engineers and scientists assess the impacts of a proposed project on environmental conditions. They apply scientific and engineering principles to evaluate if there are likely to be any adverse impacts to water quality, air quality, habitat quality, flora and fauna, agricultural capacity, traffic impacts, social impacts, ecological impacts, noise impacts, visual(landscape) impacts, etc. If impacts are expected, they then develop mitigation measures to limit or prevent such impacts. An example of a mitigation measure would be the creation of wetlands in a nearby location to mitigate the filling in of wetlands necessary for a road development if it is not possible to reroute the road.
Water supply and treatment
Engineers and scientists work to secure water supplies for potable and agricultural use. They evaluate the water balance within a watershed and determine the available water supply, the water needed for various needs in that watershed, the seasonal cycles of water movement through the watershed and they develop systems to store, treat, and convey water for various uses. Water is treated to achieve water quality objectives for the end uses. In the case of potable water supply, water is treated to minimize risk of infectious disease transmittal, risk of non-infectious illness, and create a palatable water flavor. Water distribution systems are designed and built to provide adequate water pressure and flow rates to meet various end-user needs such as domestic use, fire suppression, and irrigation.
Wastewater conveyance and treatment
Most urban and many rural areas no longer discharge human waste directly to the land through outhouse, septic, and/or honey bucket systems, but rather deposit such waste into water and convey it from households via sewer systems. Engineers and scientists develop collection and treatment systems to carry this waste material away from where people live and produce the waste and discharge it into the environment. In developed countries, substantial resources are applied to the treatment and detoxification of this waste before it is discharged into a river, lake, or ocean system. Developing nations are striving to obtain the resources to develop such systems so that they can improve water quality in their surface waters and reduce the risk of water-borne infectious disease.
There are numerous wastewater treatment technologies. A wastewater treatment train can consist of a primary clarifier system to remove solid and floating materials, a secondary treatment system consisting of an aeration basin followed by flocculation and sedimentation or an activated sludge system and a secondary clarifier, a tertiary biological nitrogen removal system, and a final disinfection process. The aeration basin/activated sludge system removes organic material by growing bacteria (activated sludge). The secondary clarifier removes the activated sludge from the water. The tertiary system, although not always included due to costs, is becoming more prevalent to remove nitrogen and phosphorus and to disinfect the water before discharge to a surface water stream or ocean outfall.
Air quality management
Engineers apply scientific and engineering principles to the design of manufacturing and combustion processes to reduce air pollutant emissions to acceptable levels. Scrubbers, electrostatic precipitators, catalytic converters, and various other processes are utilized to remove particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOC), reactive organic gases (ROG) and other air pollutants from flue gases and other sources prior to allowing their emission to the atmosphere.
Scientists have developed air pollution dispersion models to evaluate the concentration of a pollutant at a receptor or the impact on overall air quality from vehicle exhausts and industrial flue gas stack emissions.
- Contaminated land management and site remediation
- Risk assessment
- Environmental policy and regulation development
- Solid waste management
- Hazardous waste management
- Environmental health and safety
- Natural resource management
- Noise pollution