An environmental engineer uses an instrument to measure the speed of watering flowing in a river

An environmental engineer could...


Design the structure and irrigation for rooftop gardens, helping reduce building heating and cooling costs. Grass and flowers grow on the roof of a house Help refineries reduce their toxic gas emissions, which contribute to acid rain and global warming. Dark smoke rises from two smoke stacks
Design a municipal water supply and wastewater treatment system for a growing city. A child washes their hand with water from a drinking fountain Design an ocean-water desalination plant to help irrigate crops without harming marine life. Large pipes carry water inside a desalination plant
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Environmental engineers plan projects around their city or state—like municipal water systems, landfills, recycling centers, or sanitation facilities—that are essential to the health of the people who live there. Environmental engineers also work to minimize the impact of human developments, like new roads or dams, on environments and habitats, and they strive to improve the quality of our air, land, and water.
Key Requirements Civic-minded, able to think on both a large and small scale, possess a great love for the outdoors, and have excellent communication skills
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus, English; if available, environmental science, marine biology, statistics
Median Salary
Environmental Engineer
  $84,890
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
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Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Average (7% to 13%)
Interview

Read an interview with a real-life environmental engineer, John Roll, as he explains the range of jobs, skills, and future needs for environmental engineers.

Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Environmental engineers typically enter the occupation with a bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty, but some basic research positions may require a graduate degree. Engineers offering their services directly to the public must be licensed. Continuing education to keep current with rapidly changing technology is important for engineers.

Education and Training

Entry into environmental engineering requires a B.S. degree in engineering, typically civil, chemical, mechanical or environmental. And, while you are still comfortable with the school life, you should take another year or so to get a Masters degree in environmental engineering (more and more employers are giving preference to those who have a Masters degree). If you can afford it, you are also encouraged to get your Ph.D.; while not required, it will provide additional advantages in your subsequent career.

You must do your best in the math, science and engineering courses that comprise any engineering degree. Equally important, you need to focus on the humanities. Since environmental engineering is so intertwined with people, it is necessary that you understand how people and societies function. Through both your formal training and your activities during your college career, you need to work on developing your writing and speaking skills. Environmental engineers must be able to communicate effectively with people of all types if they are to succeed in solving problems. These skills can only be learned by doing --- the more you do, the better you will become.

Other Qualifications

Environmental engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers frequently interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.

Nature of the Work

Engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to develop economical solutions to technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and the commercial applications that meet societal and consumer needs.

Watch this video to find out what Tamar Losleben does as an environmental engineer as she explains where public health and environmental needs meet.

Environmental engineers develop solutions to environmental problems using the principles of biology and chemistry. They are involved in water and air pollution control, recycling, waste disposal, and public health issues. Environmental engineers conduct hazardous-waste management studies in which they evaluate the significance of the hazard, advise on treatment and containment, and develop regulations to prevent mishaps. They design municipal water supply and industrial wastewater treatment systems. They conduct research on the environmental impact of proposed construction projects, analyze scientific data, and perform quality-control checks. Environmental engineers are concerned with local and worldwide environmental issues. They study and attempt to minimize the effects of acid rain, global warming, automobile emissions, and ozone depletion. They may also be involved in the protection of wildlife. Many environmental engineers work as consultants, helping their clients to comply with regulations, to prevent environmental damage, and to clean up hazardous sites.

Work Environment

Most engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Others may spend time outdoors at construction sites, where they monitor or direct operations, or solve on-site problems. Some engineers travel extensively to plants or work sites, both here and abroad.

On the Job

  • Collaborate with environmental scientists, planners, hazardous waste technicians, engineers, and other specialists, as well as experts in law and business, to address environmental problems.
  • Inspect industrial and municipal facilities and programs to evaluate operational effectiveness and ensure compliance with environmental regulations.
  • Prepare, review, and update environmental investigation and recommendation reports.
  • Design and supervise the development of systems processes or equipment for control, management, or remediation of water, air, or soil quality.
  • Provide environmental engineering assistance in network analysis, regulatory analysis, and planning or reviewing database development.
  • Obtain, update, and maintain plans, permits, and standard operating procedures.
  • Provide technical-level support for environmental remediation and litigation projects, including remediation system design and determination of regulatory applicability.
  • Monitor progress of environmental improvement programs.
  • Advise corporations and government agencies of procedures to follow in cleaning up contaminated sites to protect people and the environment.
  • Inform company employees and other interested parties of environmental issues.
  • Develop proposed project objectives and targets, and report to management on progress in attaining them.
  • Request bids from suppliers or consultants.
  • Advise industries and government agencies about environmental policies and standards.
  • Assess the existing or potential environmental impact of land use projects on air, water, and land.
  • Assist in budget implementation, forecasts, and administration.
  • Serve on teams conducting multimedia inspections at complex facilities, providing assistance with planning, quality assurance, safety inspection protocols, and sampling.
  • Coordinate and manage environmental protection programs and projects, assigning and evaluating work.
  • Maintain, write, and revise quality assurance documentation and procedures.
  • Provide administrative support for projects by collecting data, providing project documentation, training staff, and performing other general administrative duties.
  • Serve as liaison with federal, state, and local agencies and officials on issues pertaining to solid and hazardous waste program requirements.
  • Develop site-specific health and safety protocols, such as spill contingency plans and methods for loading and transporting waste.
  • Develop and present environmental compliance training or orientation sessions.
  • Develop, implement, and manage plans and programs related to conservation and management of natural resources.
  • Prepare hazardous waste manifests and land disposal restriction notifications.
  • Assess, sort, characterize, and pack known and unknown materials.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Environmental Engineers

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

Science Fair Project Idea
Do you filter your tap water before drinking? Many commercials claim these filters make your drinking water cleaner and safer. But what, exactly, are these filters doing and is the water really cleaner afterwards? The cleaning power comes from their filling material, called activated carbon. It exists in all kind of forms: powder, granules, foams, and blocks. Do you think it matters what type of activated carbon is inside the filter? In this activity you will investigate whether larger or… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you really catch more flies with honey than with vinegar? Do an experiment to find out! Watch the video above to learn how to make a simple homemade fly trap using a plastic bottle. Then, experiment to discover which bait attracts the most flies. You can try a variety of liquids, and you can also use solid bait like rotting food or meat, but you will need to add some water so the flies drown. A drop of soap can help break the surface tension of the water, making it easier for the flies to… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
How can seawater from the oceans be turned into fresh water that is suitable for people to drink? Through a process called solar desalination! In this science project, you will make a solar desalination apparatus using readily available materials, and a power source that is free. How much water can the device produce, and is it still salty at all? What factors affect how effectively saltwater is turned into fresh water? Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Water is a valuable resource, and water shortages are a serious problem in many parts of the world. The problem can be made worse by people who waste water; for example, by watering a garden or using sprinklers on their lawn (or a farmer taking care of an entire field) when it has rained recently or the soil is already moist. How can you help conserve water and prevent such waste? One way is to build an electronic soil moisture sensor. This project will show you how to build a circuit that… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Here is a project that uses direct solar power, gathering the sun's rays for heating/sterilizing water or cooking. It is a low-cost technology that seems to have everything going for it. Does it work? Can you find ways to improve it? Find out with this project. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
In this fun science project, you will create a bird feeder from recycled materials that you can set up outside. By observing the birds that come to the bird feeder, you will find out what different kinds of birds live in your area. How many different kinds of birds do you think you will spot? Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever seen a product labeled "biodegradable" or "compostable" and wondered just how well it decomposes? A lot of different products claim to be biodegradable or compostable, such as food containers, bags, packaging materials, and spoons and forks. Not only do they clearly come in different shapes and sizes, but they are made of different materials as well. Do they decompose differently, and, if so, which decomposes the fastest? In this science project, you will make your own indoor… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you or your family have a lawn, garden, or potted plants that you water regularly? Irrigation—or the artificial application of water to plants and landscaping—accounts for over two-thirds of the world's freshwater consumption (U.S. Geological Survey, 2016)! While that total includes farms, in the United States landscape irrigation still accounts for almost one-third of residential water use. As much as half of that water is wasted due to inefficient watering methods (WaterSense,… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
How are we going to feed the more than 9 billion people that will live on Earth by 2050? This is a major question for farmers, ranchers, and food scientists around the globe. It's a big problem, considering that from 2017 to 2050 we will be adding 1.5 billion people and need 20% more food. Linked to this problem of producing enough food is having enough land, water, and other natural resources to make that happen. The final solution will surely be made up of many different approaches working… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Your drinking water probably started out brown and muddy. Are you surprised? Maybe you were picturing it flowing from a clean mountain spring instead? All over the world, including in 68% of American homes, people get their drinking water from rivers, lakes, and other surface waters. This water is filled with dirt, debris, and other contaminants as it travels hundreds of miles. So, how does your drinking water go from brown and muddy to crystal clear? Often, flocculants—substances that… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
On a windy day it is hard to keep your hat on! The power of the wind can even be strong enough to power large wind turbines to make electricity! In this experiment, find out how you can make your own instrument to measure the speed and power of the wind. How does it work? Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Earth, the Sun, wind, and water are all sources of renewable and sustainable energy—and sources you probably already know about. But did you know that you can get energy from such things as banana peels, coffee grounds, and newspaper? In a process called composting, you can transform kitchen and other solid wastes into a product that is beneficial for your garden: homemade fertilizer. As the waste decomposes, it also creates heat. Can this naturally created heat be put to use? In this… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Living in the industrialized world, like the United States, we are fortunate because we don't have to worry about the quality of our drinking water. Your community has the means to clean and provide water to you. But in many parts of the world, people don't have this luxury. Whether it is due to war or poverty, the lack of clean water leads to many health and social problems. In this environmental engineering science project, you will learn about different methods to filter out impurities in… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Wondering what sustainable, high-producing agriculture might look like? This science project explores how analyzing bird's-eye-view pictures of a field can make farmers aware of variations in their fields. Farmers can use this information to optimize their farming practices, or even feed this information to high-tech agricultural equipment so the machines can automatically adjust their actions (like fertilizing or watering) to the needs of a piece of land. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever seen news coverage or other pictures of an oil spill in the ocean and wondered how all of that oil could be cleaned up? Oil spills can devastate wildlife by covering them with oil, and they can damage our precious water resources by contaminating them with oil. Part of the problem of dealing with oil spills is that the oil can be challenging to clean up. In this science project, you will test the absorptivity of different materials (called sorbents) to discover which ones are best… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Isn't it nice to take a nice, hot shower or bath after a long day of playing outside? But have you really thought about how the hot water in your shower or bath gets hot? Sure, the water heater in your house gets it hot, but what makes the water heater work? Water heaters are powered by natural gas or electricity. But are there any other ways to heat water? What about using the Sun? In this science fair project, you'll give it a try by capturing energy from the Sun to heat water. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
The enormous task of cleaning up oil spills in oceans and seas has burdened industry, government, and environmentalists for decades. The cleanup is almost always difficult. It involves great amounts of time, resources, and money to remove the oil from the water, and the cleanup is often only partially successful. Today, however, scientists are coming to the rescue, developing a new technique that combines nanotechnology and magnetism. In this science project, you will test the proposed… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
What do humans need to survive? We need food, water, and warm shelter. We all need a warm place to live, particularly when it's chilly outside. How do many of us warm our houses or apartments? We depend on fossil fuels to supply gas and electricity to our heaters. But burning fossil fuels to create energy is harmful to the environment. What if there was a way to warm our homes without burning fossil fuels and it was free? In this science fair project, you will build a solar air heater and see… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Did you know that there is plastic in the ocean? It probably isn't too hard to imagine that some of the plastic that litters roadways, sidewalks, and parks finds its way into the ocean. So, how much do you think is in there? Hundreds of pounds of plastic? How about thousands of pounds? No one knows for sure, but estimates, based on scientific surveys, suggest the amount is in the range of millions of pounds of plastic! Of course, the ocean is big, over 300 million square kilometers, so… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Most of us live in areas where sources of water exist nearby as oceans, rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, reservoirs, wells, or even underground streams. But in some places, like the desert, water is hard to find and a precious resource. In this environmental engineering science project, you will investigate one way that people living in arid regions can collect water inexpensively: dew traps. Read more

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