All engineers must consider the impact that their systems and structures will have on the environment. However environmental engineers are particularly concerned with protecting the environment from the potentially harmful effects of human activity, and protecting human populations from the effects of adverse environmental factors. They analyse environmental quality and design systems and structures that improve air, water and soil quality, and thus improve human health.
Environmental Engineers find employment opportunities in industry, municipalities, consulting firms, federal and provincial regulatory agencies and research establishments.
Typical activities for environmental engineers include:
- designing wastewater treatment plants
- monitoring discharges for regulatory compliance
- operating systems for reducing and utilizing solid waste
- designing municipal or hazardous waste disposal sites
- monitoring air pollution and operating control equipment
- predicting movement of contaminants in air, water, and soil
- devising contaminated site remediation schemes
- developing pollution control technologies for different industries
- responding to environmental emergencies such as oil spills
- developing environmental regulations
- providing input into environmental impact assessment hearings
Environmental Engineering is a multidisciplinary activity in which environmental engineers work closely with professionals from many other disciplines including biologists, chemists, economists, sociologists, lawyers, political scientists, urban and regional planners and others who play an integral role in defining and designing sustainable developments. The discipline of environmental engineering continues to grow and includes many different research areas.
Water and Wastewater Treatment
Many water sources contain chemical or biological substances that make them unsuitable for human consumption. Municipal and industrial wastewaters contain substances that may be harmful if they are released to the environment without treatment. Environmental engineers design processes for removing undesirable elements from drinking water and wastewater.
Air Pollution Control
Fossil fuel combustion, industrial processes, and the wide use of petrochemical substances by society can release pollutants into the atmosphere that can have undesirable effects on human, animal and plant life. Environmental engineers implement processes and practices that prevent the formationof these pollutants, or capture and immobilize them.
Groundwater Flow and Contaminant Transport
Groundwater is a valuable source of drinking water but can be susceptible to contamination as a result of surface spills, leaking storage facilities and improper disposal practices. The study of groundwater flow and contaminant transport by environmental engineers evaluates the physical and chemical processes which govern the movement of groundwater and various contaminants below the ground surface.
Solid and Hazardous Waste Management
Modern society generates large quantities of household, industrial, commercial, and institutional waste. Some of these wastes are classified as hazardous because they pose a substantial danger to human, animal, or plant life. Environmental engineers implement processes and practices that minimize the amount of solid waste and dispose of it in a safe manner.
Environmental Impact Assessment
Most industrial activity and application of technologies have an impact on the environment. Environmental impact assessment is the management tool to delineate and possibly quantify the impact of engineering projects on the environment and includes environmental auditing and life-cycle analysis of industrial products and outputs. Environmental engineers carry out impact assessments on a wide variety of projects that assist in environmental planning and decision-making.
Radioactive Waste Management
Use of radioactive materials in applications such as electric power generation and production of medical isotopes (Canada is a primary producer in the world) results in radioactive products and residuals that need to be properly managed or disposed of to prevent any potential harm to the biosphere. Environmental engineers are involved in the development of chemical processes and engineered barriers for the long-term isolation of radioactive residuals.
The Environmental Engineering program at Carleton University is based on a group of courses designed specifically for environmental engineering students and taught by instructors with backgrounds in civil, chemical and environmental engineering. The program also includes the common engineering core program, additional courses in biology and chemistry, and an opportunity to take courses from other faculties such as Arts and Social Sciences.