What Does an Environmental Engineer Do?

Builders everywhere rely on environmental engineers to make sure their building sites are safe and up to code. Learn all about these skilled professionals and what makes environmental engineers so special.


Examples of Environmental Engineering Duties

Environmental engineers take years to learn the ins and outs of the trade, and these professionals end up performing a wide variety of duties throughout their careers. Some examples of these duties include:

1. Environmental Site Assessment

An environmental site assessment is a general overview of a property or lot to ensure its overall safety for human habitation or work. This type of assessment may include soil investigations and other types of geotechnical engineering activities, or it may simply consist of an environmental engineer performing a quick look-over. Whether the property initially appears to be safe or it’s obviously dangerous, environmental engineers generally go on to perform further tests that will provide the desired data.

2. Environmental Investigations

An environmental investigation is essentially the same thing as an environmental site assessment, but this term most commonly refers to the specific investigations that environmental engineers perform on the job. The most common type of environmental investigation is a soil investigation, and these tests are performed to gain a wide variety of data types on the tested soil.

Soil investigations generally consist of collecting a soil sample to be tested in a lab, environmental engineers often also examine soil visually. In many cases, the quick visual analysis of a well-trained environmental engineer is enough to learn a lot about the stability and safety of a particular patch of soil.

3. Chemical Testing

Environmental engineers both test for the presence of dangerous chemicals in soil and use chemicals to test certain aspects of the soil they’re investigating. Harmless chemicals can be used to ascertain the pH of soil, and other chemicals might reveal other pertinent data points. If harmful chemicals are found in soil, however, it might be necessary to relocate the building site or take preventive measures against contamination.

4. Remediation Recommendations and Consulting

Above all else, environmental engineers are expert consultants who builders, property owners, and land developers rely on to provide insightful information on a particular piece of property. Most people can’t learn much about soil from looking at it, but environmental engineers have trained for years to know exactly how soil operates, and every year on the job serves as further training that builds valuable expertise.

Environmental engineers can provide insider advice on which measures a development company should take with its site, and if the builder decides to stick with the site anyway, environmental engineers can recommend particular paths to remediation that may make even the most toxic site usable with time.


What Education Is Required to Be an Environmental Engineer?

To gain access to entry-level positions, a prospective environmental engineer must have at least a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a related discipline. Environmental engineers with relevant graduate degrees are provided with better pay and access to a greater number of available jobs.

Since environmental engineering is a hands-on discipline, a significant amount of training goes on during the first year on the job. During this “paid internship,” new environmental engineers essentially gain “graduate degrees” in environmental engineering that they can then apply to subsequent positions.


Quick Environmental Engineering Facts

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), environmental engineers in the United States make an average of $87,620 per year.
  • There are currently over 50,000 environmental engineer jobs in the United States
  • Most environmental engineers spend about an equal amount of time working in the office and in the field
  • Environmental engineers help builders and developers by controlling pollution, disposing of waste, and improving public health.
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