What is Environmental Engineering?
The field of environmental engineering, from the civil engineering perspective, includes providing services that every society needs. This includes providing safe drinking water, properly managing wastewater, the remediation of contaminated sites or brownfields, the design of solid waste management systems and the control of air emissions from any type of facility. Providing safe drinking water requires the development of water supplies including underground aquifers or surface water sources such as lakes, rivers or constructed reservoirs. Water has to be pumped from one of these water sources to a water treatment facility where the water is treated to meet the drinking water standards as established by the USEPA. The treated water is delivered to the community through a water distribution system that has been designed, constructed and operated to provide the design quantity at an acceptable pressure and quality at the point of use.
Environmental engineers are also responsible for designing wastewater collection and pumping systems to transfer raw wastewater to wastewater treatment facilities. At wastewater treatment facilities chemical and biological contaminants are removed from the water, making the water safe for reuse or disposal.
Historically, industry was not required to properly manage hazardous waste. Many industrial sites contain areas where the environment is contaminated from improper handling and disposal practices and requires remediation. Even with proper management accidents can happen, causing release of contaminants to the environment. Environmental engineers preform site assessments to determine what chemicals are present and in what concentrations, and what risk they represent. Based on the site assessment, environmental engineers design remediation plans to clean up the site using a variety of treatment options best suited for the contaminants present.
Unlike hazardous waste management, solid waste management has a long history. The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, also known as the Refuse Act, is the oldest federal environmental law in the US. The act made it a misdemeanor to discharge refuse of any kind into a navigable water. River transportation was the primary means of transportation and most large cities were located on rivers. Solid waste dumps were usually located on the river banks and every spring when the river flooded the solid waste washed away. The debris would interfere with the operation of paddlewheel boats, and in turn the economy of the country. Civil, Sanitary and now Environmental engineers have been designing proper collection, transfer and disposal systems for the management of solid waste.
Air pollution and its control is a field of environmental engineering primarily related to commercial and industrial facilities as well as mobile sources. The 1970 Clean Air Act established the regulatory requirements for both stationary and mobile sources. One of the primary reasons the USEPA was formed was to implement this Act. In 1990 the Clean Air Act was reauthorized and included regulation to control acid rain and the protection of the ozone layer.
Our Approach to Environmental Engineering
In Florida, land development has been a major field of employment for environmental engineers. Water and Wastewater Systems for Land Development is a course that was specifically designed to prepare students to work in this field. It includes three projects where students design the water distributions system, wastewater collection system and sewage pumping system. In another class students learn how to design the chemical, physical and biological processes used to treat wastewater. Both the solid waste class and hazardous waste remediation class include real-life projects as part of the course.