Environmental engineering, the development of processes and infrastructure for the supply of water, the disposal of waste, and the control of pollution of all kinds. These endeavors protect public health by preventing disease transmission, and they preserve the quality of the environment by averting the contamination and degradation of air, water, and land resources.
Environmental engineering is a field of broad scope that draws on such disciplines as chemistry, ecology, geology, hydraulics, hydrology, microbiology, economics, and mathematics. It was traditionally a specialized field within civil engineering and was called sanitary engineering until the mid-1960s, when the more accurate name environmental engineering was adopted.
Projects in environmental engineering involve the treatment and distribution of drinking water (see water supply system); the collection, treatment, and disposal of wastewater (see wastewater treatment); the control of air pollution and noise pollution; municipal solid-waste management and hazardous-waste management; the cleanup of hazardous-waste sites; and the preparation of environmental assessments, audits, and impact studies. Mathematical modeling and computer analysis are widely used to evaluate and design the systems required for such tasks. Chemical and mechanical engineers may also be involved in the process. Environmental engineering functions include applied research and teaching; project planning and management; the design, construction, and operation of facilities; the sale and marketing of environmental-control equipment; and the enforcement of environmental standards and regulations.
The education of environmental engineers usually involves graduate-level course work, though some colleges and universities allow undergraduates to specialize or take elective courses in the environmental field. Programs offering associate (two-year) degrees are available for training environmental technicians. In the public sector, environmental engineers are employed by national and regional environmental agencies, local health departments, and municipal engineering and public works departments. In the private sector, they are employed by consulting engineering firms, construction contractors, water and sewerage utility companies, and manufacturing industries.