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.
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.
Most jurisdictions also impose licensing and registration requirements.
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.
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.
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.
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.