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Environmental Engineering

Find out the origins of earth, and some of the key ingredients that help make our home planet a unique global ecosystem.

DUTIES

Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They work to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control. Environmental engineers may be called upon to conduct hazardous-waste management studies in which they evaluate the significance of a hazard and advise on containing it. They also design systems for municipal and industrial water supplies and industrial wastewater treatment, and research the environmental impact of proposed construction projects.

Some environmental engineers study ways to minimize the effects of acid rain, climate change, automobile emissions, and ozone depletion. Environmental engineering students learn how to reduce the overall impact of an artificial system on the world's ecosystem and manage natural resources for a construction project. They typically study the chemical properties of water, soil and air so they can design technical mechanisms that solve pollution issues. After they graduate, they may help companies improve the sustainability of their facilities and advise legislators on environmental policies. Their projects often result in the production of green energy, which is a renewable power source from natural occurrences like sunlight or water.

  • Prepare, review, and update environmental investigation reports.
  • Design projects that lead to environmental protection, such as water reclamation facilities or air pollution control systems.
  • Obtain, update, and maintain plans, permits, and standard operating procedures.
  • Provide technical support for environmental remediation projects and for legal actions.
  • Analyze scientific data and do quality-control checks.
  • Monitor the progress of environmental improvement programs.
  • Inspect industrial and municipal facilities and programs in order to ensure compliance with environmental regulations.
  • Advise corporations and government agencies about procedures for cleaning up contaminated sites.

EDUCATION

Environmental engineers must have a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering or a related field, such as urban planning, organic chemistry, or industrial engineering. Programs in environmental engineering technology generally include courses in mathematics, chemistry, hazardous-waste management, and environmental assessment. At some colleges and universities, a student can enroll in a 5-year program that leads to both a bachelor's and a master's degree concurrently. Engineering programs are accredited by ABET.

Because environmental engineers help out in environmental cleanup, they must follow proper safety procedures, such as wearing hazmat suits and sometimes respirators. Some environmental technician positions require training on working with hazardous materials in accordance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

CERTIFICATION

Certification programs enable electrical engineers to learn new skills and demonstrate their expertise to potential employers. To earn certifications, candidates often complete training programs followed by a written or oral exam.

The EIT certification is an important entry-level certification for engineers in a wide variety of fields. It's often the first step in earning a Professional Engineer (PE) certification. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying administers EIT testing in all states during four periods each year. After passing the EIT exam, the candidate's state engineering board issues them the certification, which allows them to work as an entry-level engineer in their area.

The initial Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam can be taken after earning a bachelor's degree. Engineers who pass this exam commonly are called engineers in training (EIT) or engineer interns (EI). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Each state issues its own licenses, although states recognize licensure from other states. Electrical and electronic engineers may advance to supervisory positions in which they lead a team of engineers and technicians.

RECLAMATION PROJECTS

The following technologies are used to clean up contaminated sites during enviromental reclamation work: Gas Chromatography (GC) is the most widely used chromatographic technique for environmental analyses, and is used onsite in field investigations and by offsite reference laboratories. Immunoassay technologies use antibodies to identify and quantify organic compounds and a limited number of metallic analytes. This technique is used widely for environmental field analysis because the antibodies can be highly specific to the target compounds.

Mass Spectrometry is an established analytical technique that identifies organic compounds by measuring the mass of the compound's molecule. Although mass spectrometry can be used for the analysis of metals, non-metallic elements and radionuclides, it is most generally used for organic analysis as a field analytical technique.

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is a geophysical method that has been developed for shallow, high-resolution, subsurface investigations of the earth. GPR uses high frequency pulsed electromagnetic waves to acquire subsurface information. Magnetic devices specifically developed for environmental applications may be used to locate subsurface iron, nickel and cobalt alloys which are typically referred to as ferrous materials. The technology has been widely used for quickly locating buried or subsurface ferrous objects that could pose a potential threat to the environment or hinder reclamation efforts.

WATER RESOURCES

Water resources engineering involves developing infrastructure for safe drinking water in towns and cities. Students learn the hydrologic cycle, which is how water molecules move between the atmosphere and the earth over time. They use this knowledge of natural systems to design water sanitation facilities and artificial lakes or ponds. This civil engineering specialization also involves hydraulics, which refers to how water moves through pipes and channels through natural forces in physical science.

Water and Wastewater engineers plan, design, and manage the construction of municipal water supply systems, as well as for wastewater treatment systems. Each type of system is designed to meet industry standards and codes to ensure that drinking water meets public safety requirements and that the discharged water from wastewater treatment systems will not have a negative impact on the environment.

QUALITIES FOR SUCCESS

Ask yourself if you can see yourself being a engineer, working with technical concepts and complex equipment, which can be challenging. While engineering classes and internships will prepare you well, certain innate qualities that you bring to bear will help you succeed.


Environmental Engineering
Environmental engineers sometimes have to design systems that will be part of larger ones. They must foresee how the proposed designs will interact with components of the larger system, including the workers, machinery, and equipment, as well as with the environment.
When designing facilities and processes, environmental engineers strive to solve several issues at once, from workers' safety to environmental protection. They must identify and anticipate problems in order to prevent losses for their employers, safeguard workers' health, and mitigate environmental damage.
Environmental engineers must write clearly so that others without their specific training can understand their documents, including plans, proposals, specifications, and findings, among others.
Environmental engineers often work with businesspeople, lawyers, and other professionals outside their field. They frequently are required to read and understand documents that deal with topics outside their scope of training.
Environmental engineers must work with others toward a common goal. They usually work with engineers and scientists who design other systems and with the technicians and mechanics who put the designs into practice.

Earthquakes


Earthquakes can leave behind incredible devastation, while also creating some of the planet's most magnificent formations. Learn about the geophysics behind earthquakes, how they are measured, and where the most powerful earthquake ever witnessed occurred.

Volcanoes


About 1,500 active volcanoes can be found around the world. Learn about the major types of volcanoes, and the geological process behind eruptions.

Plastic Crisis | Toothbrush


The Story of Plastic, where we investigate how everyday objects became part of the plastic crisis.

Drought


The Wayúu, Colombia's largest indigenous group, are suffering through a horrific drought. Linked to recurring El Niños, the drought has left the Wayúu without significant rain for three years. The lack of rain has devastated crops and livestock.

JOB OUTLOOK

Most environmental engineers work full time. However, those who manage projects often work more than 40 hours per week in order to ensure that deadlines are met. State and local governments' concerns about water are leading to efforts to increase the efficiency of water use. Such a focus differs from that of wastewater treatment, for which this occupation is traditionally known.

Most of the projected employment growth for environmental engineers is in professional, scientific, and technical services, as governments at the state and local levels address water sustainability concerns. In addition, wastewater treatment is becoming a larger concern in areas of the country where drilling for shale gas requires the use and disposal of massive volumes of water.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one of the principal agencies that work with environmental engineers to protect and improve air, water, and overall environmental quality. Keeping communities safe and healthy requires action to reduce risks associated with exposure to chemicals in industry and the environment, such as controlling the introduction and use of new pesticides in agricultural production.

The EPA reduces radon risks, identifies health risks in schools and homes, and aims to improve chemical management practices. Oversight of chemical storage and manufacturing is a principal focus of attention, as well as efforts to combat air toxins. The Environmental Protection Agency also tracks hazardous waste sites, and protects public lands from contaminants that may leach into the soil from industrial manufacturing operations.

Engineering Organizations

Whether you’re a civil, environmental, manufacturing, mechanical or other type of engineer, there’s an industry trade group ready to offer training, networking opportunities and other specialized resources that can help you stay current in your field and manage your career.

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