Air quality engineers work to ensure the highest-quality air is maintained and made available to people in all environments. Often, air quality engineers specialize in either indoor or outdoor air quality and work on issues such as emission control, contaminant removal, and workplace ventilation. Air quality engineers also review environmental assessments for proposed industrial projects and make recommendations for air quality and pollution control equipment.
Imagine you are sitting at your desk examining a three-dimensional computer model of a proposed new manufacturing facility that will build massive commercial air conditioning units for sale to high-rise office buildings around the world. You are an air quality engineer with a specialty in indoor air quality and you have been brought on to this project to design a ventilation system for the facility. During the manufacturing process, there are a number of chemicals used and fumes produced that are toxic if inhaled. It is your job to design a ventilation system that will not only protect the health of workers inside the facility, but also ensure that hazardous fumes are not being discharged to the environment.
As an air quality engineer, you must consider a number of factors when designing the ventilation system for the new manufacturing facility. First, you will need to inventory the different kinds of fumes that could accumulate inside the building. This includes fumes that are produced during the manufacturing process as well as fumes from other sources in the building, such as cleaning supplies or certain office equipment. Then you must investigate the best method for collecting and disposing of these fumes, including investigating the appropriate regulations and codes governing airborne contaminants like those produced by the facility.
This information will also determine the types of emission controls you will have to build into the system to minimize the impact of discharging the collected air to the atmosphere. The ventilation system you design must also ensure that fresh air is cycled through every corner of the building. As an expert on air quality, you contribute a vital piece to this project.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an air quality engineer:
Air quality engineers work in a variety of locations, including:
In the office:
In the field:
There are a number of places air quality engineers can find employment. They include:
If you are a high school student considering a career as an air quality engineer, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an air quality engineer is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an air quality engineer, the following programs are most applicable:
In order to work as an air quality engineer, you must be registered as a Professional Engineer with your provincial association. The requirements for professional status vary among provinces.
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Growing up, Randy Dobko remembers his father pointing out sour gas plants and oil refineries as they travelled in the family car. His father was the first engineer hired by the Alberta government to deal specifically with the province’s air quality issues. At the time, Randy wasn’t convinced it was the career for him. It wasn’t until he landed a summer job in an environmental analysis laboratory with an engineer that Randy made his career choice. “I was interested in how he did all the problem solving based on the analysis of samples we had collected in the field.” At that point, Randy decided he wanted to be a chemical engineer and went on to complete undergraduate degrees in chemical engineering and chemistry from the University of Alberta.
More than 20 years later, Randy is a Senior Engineer with Alberta Environment. He focuses on air quality issues—just like his father. “In my job, I have to have a wide variety of experience to properly assess a situation.” He has gained this experience by working in many areas within Alberta Environment—including enforcement, compliance, approvals, and standards development—and many industries, including electrical utility, upstream oil and gas, refinery, and fertilizer. Randy spends much of his time at his desk writing, researching, and consulting with other professionals regarding a number of air quality projects. One recent project was writing the air emissions standards for Alberta’s electrical utility sector.
First, Randy provided technical information to a larger multi-stakeholder group that decided on the exact numbers to be used as the standards. He then consulted with the department’s environmental lawyers to ensure the document was written in a language that industry, lawyers, and the public could understand. Randy is also involved in improving and developing new monitoring methods. He does this by keeping abreast of scientific developments in the industry and determining how his department can incorporate these techniques. “I’m expected to be a technical expert. I’m expected to provide responses or positions on a variety of air quality issues for the province and for the industry.”
Despite his expertise, Randy has been unable to convince some of the public about one of the largest misconceptions of the air quality industry. “Just because you can smell it, doesn’t mean it will kill you.” Many of the calls he gets from concerned residents are about odours they think are toxic but are actually harmless. In some cases, he’s given up trying to correct the public about this misconception. “People are entitled to their opinion. I simply try to ensure I’m aware of the latest, most up-to-date information that allows me to convince myself.” This approach also allows him to focus on the job at hand, something he is proud of. “We believe we are doing the right thing [at Alberta Environment]. We are here to represent and protect the public and the environment.”