Environmental engineers plan, design, and supervise a variety of industrial components and processes and may be found working in a number of industries, including pulp and paper, oil and gas, and manufacturing. Environmental engineers may also choose to specialize in a specific area, for example, air or water quality or solid and hazardous waste management. Environmental engineers are often also involved in regulatory procedures that review facilities to ensure they are complying with environmental policies and guidelines.
Imagine standing at the window of a plush boardroom looking out over a busy pulp and paper mill. On the agenda for today’s meeting is a discussion of upgrade plans for the mill, which is nearly 40 years old and in need of another retrofit. You are an environmental engineer and you have been brought into this project to look at how the mill is disposing of its effluent.
One of the by-products of the mill’s manufacturing process is effluent water that is too contaminated to be put into the municipal sewer system or discharged into local rivers. Your job is to examine this effluent and design a system to treat and disinfect the water before it can be discharged to the receiving body.
As an environmental engineer, you specialize in responding to environmental problems such as effluent disposal and waste management. Your first task will be to test the mill’s effluent to determine exactly what is in the water. You look for chemical contaminants that are used in processing pulp and manufacturing paper, such as bleach. You will also test for biological oxygen demand (BOD), total suspended solids (TSS), and turbidity.
Once you know the types and concentrations of contaminants in the effluent, you can begin to design a treatment system. You will incorporate a number of methods, for example, filtration and ozone disinfection, to remove these toxic contaminants. Your goal is to design a system that will treat the mill’s effluent water so that it is clean enough to flow straight into the local river without any harmful effects.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental engineer:
For most environmental engineers an equal amount of time is spent indoors and outdoors. They work in a variety of locations including, but not limited to:
In the office:
In the field:
There are a number of places environmental engineers can find employment. They include:
If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental engineer, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental engineer is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental engineer, the following programs are most applicable:
In order to work as an environmental engineer, you must be registered as a Professional Engineer with your provincial association. The requirements for professional status vary among provinces.
Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine both technical knowledge with business skills. The ECO Academy can help you build the essential skills needed for a successful environmental career. Learn more
A tour of one of Peshawar, Pakistan’s first wastewater treatment plants in 1994 piqued Mansoor Ahmad’s interest in the environment. “It was really amazing,” recalls the environmental engineer. Until that point, much of the developing nation’s wastewater was often dumped into nearby rivers without proper treatment. “At the time, nobody was concerned about the environment. People were more concerned about attracting more industries…becoming more industrialized.” Two years later, Mansoor arrived in Canada to study environmental engineering.
Today, Mansoor works as an environmental engineer in the Department of Environment and Conservation for the Newfoundland and Labrador government. He is passionate about his work. “It feels really good when you stop someone from polluting the environment.” He likes to compare his work to that of a doctor—just as a doctor takes care of a person’s body, environmental professionals “take care of Mother Nature’s body.” Mansoor spends much of his time touring industrial facilities.
He examines their environmental control technologies and ensures they meet the stringent provincial air pollution control and effluent regulations issued in 2004. Mansoor finds his job empowering. “Under the regulations, I’m the one who can put the brakes on companies from polluting. I’m the one who gets to tell them, ‘no, you can’t do that!’” Often companies aren’t so receptive to these regulations, believing they are too expensive to implement. “We tell them that we don’t pass these regulations—they come from Cabinet. We have no authority to change them,” says Mansoor. Some businesses even try to circumvent environmental laws by devising their own, less expensive ways of controlling their pollution. “I sit there thinking to myself, ‘I know their ways aren’t going to work.’” At this point, Mansoor must step in and guide these businesses in the right direction, to ensure they adhere to the laws and that the environment remains protected.