Engineering projects can interact with the environment in two ways:
  • A project can have as its primary objective to clean up or stop pollution of the environment by human activity e.g. construction of a new wastewater treatment plant.

  • An engineering project or process may impact on the environment e.g. a manufacturing process may result in wastes or emissions. Engineering solutions are then required to prevent or minimise these emissions and to ensure compliance with environmental legislation. Projects may also have an indirect benefit on the environment e.g. wind farms are built to generate electricity and there is an environmental benefit in that wind is a renewable energy source and does not emit green house gases.


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 Law faculties.
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 Change Institute.

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 the
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 became intolerable.
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 public.

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 pollution.

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 public.

Version March 2000