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What Does an Environmental Engineer Do?

What Does an Environmental Engineer Do?

Posted By: Brightwood Engineering Education
Date: February 28, 2017

 

Climate change, pollution, and resource depletion are all serious environmental issues. Increasingly, engineers are working to protect ecologically sensitive land, as well as the Earth's valuable natural resources. Conservationists interested in improving processes related to recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control may be interested in specializing as environmental engineers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental engineers use their knowledge of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions. The most recent data shows median annual pay at $84,560, and the job outlook is "faster-than-average" growth. In particular, state and local government concerns pertinent to water availability and quality will likely lead to projects aimed at increasing the efficiency of water use.

Typically, environmental engineers focus on protecting people and the environment from adverse impacts, such as pollution and improper waste disposal. Some study ways to mitigate the effects of acid rain, climate change, car emissions, and ozone depletion. Overall, their focus is generally on improving environmental quality by reducing air, water, or soil pollution. Environmental engineers are involved in creating solutions to problems as varied as lessening the impact of climate change on the world's food supply to learning how methamphetamine may be absorbed into building materials.

Environmental engineers are frequently called in at the beginning of a project that potentially could affect, or even harm, the world in which we live. They are generally tasked with preparing, reviewing, and updating environmental impact reports. They often design projects that have to do with protecting or preserving the environment, such as water reclamation, desalination, air quality control, or resource recovery plants. Environmental engineers must obtain, update, and maintain plans, permits, and standard operating procedures. They must document what needs to happen, what actually does occur, and what happens in the aftermath, all the while monitoring progress, analyzing scientific data, and performing inspections to ensure regulatory compliance.

Some environmental engineers are involved in toxic clean-ups. They advise corporations that may have purchased, or are responsible for producing, contaminated sites. Others work with government agencies regarding procedures for cleaning up polluted sites. The work can be hazardous because environmental engineers assist in cleaning highly contaminated areas. Therefore, it is possible they could be exposed to hazards from equipment, chemicals, or toxic materials. However, they are protected by following specific protocol and wearing special equipment, such as hazmat suits and respirators. For example, when environmental engineers work in wet areas, they wear heavy rubber boots to keep the lower body dry and protected from toxic materials.

Prospective environmental engineers should possess the following traits:

  • Good communication skills. Environmental engineers need to bring a team together, motivate them, and explain any issues coherently.
  • Not afraid to get dirty. Many environmental engineers must be willing to get a little dirty when they confront situations and issues out in the field.
  • Critical thinker. Common in most engineering jobs, critical thinking is the ability to articulate problems, identify solutions, and logically implement plans.
  • Collaborative. The best environmental engineers are open to hearing all sides of an issue in order to create the most effective, cost-efficient, and environmentally friendly solutions. They work with planners, hazardous waste technicians, and other engineers, as well as with specialists in law and business, to address environmental problems and environmental sustainability.

If you think this career might be a good fit, you will first need to complete your bachelor’s degree, and then pass the FE exam for environmental engineering. Once you have passed the FE exam, you can obtain a position as an engineer in training (EIT) or engineering intern. This will allow you to get some experience while you prepare to become a licensed environmental engineer.

To get started now, check out our FE exam prep options for environmental engineering.

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