In response to the skills needs for the rapidly expanding discipline of
Environmental Engineering, NUI, Galway introduced direct entry to a new
Environmental Engineering degree stream in 1999. The course is offered
by the Department of Civil Engineering in conjunction with other departments
in the faculty of Engineering and also departments in the Science and
Environmental Engineering had also been available as a special
stream for 3rd year Civil Engineering students since 1998. The students
take courses in environmental legislation, water and wastewater treatment,
waste management, pollution control and other engineering aspects as they
relate to the environment. The new programme complements wide-ranging
research that has been conducted in the department on the sustainable
development of infrastructure and natural resources.
This work, which includes experimental investigation, design and analysis
and the construction of prototype model systems, is supported by local
authorities, consultants, industry and public research organisations.
This was recognised by the Higher Education Authority in 2000 when an
IR£ 7m award was made to the University for the creation of an Environmental
Over the last 25 years the quality of water in
Ireland has declined. If this decline is not reversed, then by the year
2007, 50% of Ireland's surface waters (lakes, rivers and streams) will
be polluted. In addition many of the groundwaters, which are the drinking
water source for much of Roscommon, East Galway and Mayo, are showing
signs of intermittent pollution.
Catchment Management Plans are an important mechanism to deal with this
problem. In this approach, all the contributory pressures on water quality
in a catchment are quantified and systematically tackled. The contributory
pressures from industrial discharges, agriculture (slurry and excess fertiliser),
untreated sewage and ineffective septic tank systems are evaluated and
areas most at risk are identified.
These plans are prepared using a multi-agency approach, and comprehensive
monitoring systems and computerised information systems using databases
linked to Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are established. Environmental
engineers have a key role to play in this multi-disciplinary approach.
One of the first of these catchment management projects was the Lough
Conn Management Plan, spearheaded by Mayo County Council. This programme
identified the multi-agency approach and public education requirements
necessary for such a plan to work and succeeded in reversing the upward
pollution trend in Lough Conn.
A much larger project is the Lough Derg and Lough Ree catchment monitoring
and management project. This programme established a comprehensive water
quality monitoring system for all of the waters, which feed into the upper
Shannon as far south as Killaloe and established the key requirements
for improving the water quality in this large area.
Wastewaters are classified as municipal wastewater or industrial wastewater.
Philosophies concerning the disposal of wastewater have evolved over the
years. The practice of land disposal was replaced by the convenience of
sewage collection systems with direct discharge to surface waters.
Operating under the assumption that the solution to pollution is dilution,
the self-cleansing capacity of streams was utilised. Historically the
treatment of wastewater was considered necessary only after the self-purification
capacity of the receiving waters was exceeded and nuisance conditions
Various treatment processes were first tried in the late 1800s and early
1900s, and by the 1920s, wastewater treatment had evolved to those processes
in common use today. In the last 30 to 40 years, great advances have been
made in understanding wastewater treatment.
Wastewater treatment processes are divided into subsystems known as Primary,
Secondary and Tertiary treatment systems. The purpose of primary treatment
is to remove solid materials such as floating materials and grit from
the incoming wastewater. Secondary treatment usually consists of a process
to biologically convert dissolved and suspended organic material into
a biomass that can subsequently be removed by settlement in a tank. In
most instances secondary treatment is usually sufficient to comply with
EU effluent standards implemented by legislation.
In some instances additional treatment termed tertiary treatment may be
required to further reduce suspended solids and biodegradable organics
and to reduce chemical nutrients in the wastewater thereby restricting
weed growth and inhibiting other natural processes that limit available
oxygen in waters necessary to sustain fish life.
By providing the goods and services demanded by
the public, businesses fulfil many social needs. Economic growth and consumer
demand consumes the earth's resources and in order to protect the environment
for future generations engineers must develop new technologies and more
sustainable methods of production.
Businesses are under increasing pressure to manage and improve their environmental
performance while satisfying customer demands. With increased customer
awareness of environmental issues and legislative demands such as the
Environmental Protection Agency Act and the Waste Management Act businesses
are adopting Environmental Management Systems.
An Environmental Management System is a documented plan that covers the
totality of a businesses operations and helps management and workers to
clearly recognise the interdependence of all aspects of the organisation.
Increasingly, businesses are adopting Environmental Management Systems
that conform to an internationally recognised standard such as EN ISO
14001 - Environmental Management Systems.
One of the major issues facing Ireland at the start
of the new millennium is dealing with solid waste. It is an area where there
will be an increasing input by engineers to develop solutions that are in
accordance with statutory regulations and meet with approval from the general
A Draft Waste Management Plan was published in 1999
for the Connacht Region, comprising Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, and
Roscommon County Councils together with Galway Corporation. While the
strategy for the region has yet to be adopted and is the subject of significant
debate it is clear that major changes will be necessary and will involve:
- New recycling initiatives
- Improved public education
- Greater public participation
- Significant additional expenditure on waste management
The Code of Ethics of the Institution of Engineers
of Ireland includes a section on the responsibility of members for the environment:
2.0 Environmental & Social Obligations
2.1 Members shall exercise due consideration of the effects of their work
on the health and safety of individuals, and on the welfare of society
and of its impacts on the natural environment.
2.2 Members shall promote the principles and practices of sustainable
development and the needs of present and future generations.
2.3 Members shall strive to ensure that engineering projects for which
they are responsible will, as far as is practicable, have minimal adverse
effects on the environment, the health and safety of all people and on
their social and cultural structures.
2.4 Members shall strive to accomplish the objectives of their work with
the most efficient consumption of natural resources which is practicable
economically, including the maximum reduction in energy usage, waste and
2.5 Members shall promote the importance of social and environmental factors
to professional colleagues, employers and clients with whom they share
responsibility and collaborate with other professions to mitigate the
impacts of their common endeavours.
2.6 Members shall foster environmental awareness generally and among the
Version March 2000