The branch of engineering concerned with the application of scientific and engineering principles for protection of human populations from the effects of adverse environmental factors; protection of environments, both local and global, from potentially deleterious effects of natural and human activities; and improvement of environmental quality.
Environmental engineers study the effect of technological advances on the environment. To do so, they conduct studies on hazardous-waste management to evaluate the significance of such hazards, advise on treatment and containment, and develop regulations to prevent mishaps. Environmental engineers design municipal water supply and industrial wastewater treatment systems.
The first environmental engineer is said to have been Joseph Bazalgette. According to an article in the Postgraduate Medical Journal, Bazalgette oversaw the construction of the first large-scale municipal sanitary sewer system in London in the mid-19th century. This was prompted by a series of cholera epidemics, as well as a persistent unbearable stench, that were attributed to the discharge of raw sewage into the Thames River, which was also the main source of drinking water for the city. This “great stink,” which was so noxious that it caused Parliament to evacuate Westminster, gave then-Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli grounds to ask for 3.5 million pounds to improve the city’s sewage disposal system
Some more notable names in the field of environmental engineering include Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards, G.D. Agrawal and Marc Edwards
One of the most important responsibilities of environmental engineering is to prevent the release of harmful chemical and biological contaminants into the air, water and soil. Another important function performed by environmental engineers is detecting the presence of pollutants and tracking them back to their source.
Once the environmental engineer identifies a source of contamination, it must be stopped or significantly reduced. Simply shutting down a business is not always a viable option, because of the potential for severe economic consequences. Environmental engineers often work with businesses to determine ways to avoid or reduce the production of pollutants or to separate them so they can be disposed of in a safe manner.
Critical skills needed by environmental engineers include a working knowledge of chemical engineering, fluid dynamics, geography, geology and hydrology. Also, because of the numerous legal issues involved and the prevalence of litigation in environmental issues, environmental engineers must be familiar with applicable laws, and many of them are also practicing attorneys.