In This Article Environmental Engineering

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Journals

Environmental Science Environmental Engineering
Mira S. Olson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0029


Environmental engineering is the application of science and engineering principles to the design of environmental protection and remediation strategies using physical, chemical, and biological treatment methods, all within a regulatory framework. Environmental engineers aim to minimize the adverse effects of human activities on the natural environment. While environmental engineering is often defined by Core Disciplines, it can better be described as a field of study dedicated to three primary objectives. The first is to clean and protect the environment from pollution: think of this as “fixing the past.” Before environmental regulations were introduced, chemicals were released directly into the environment, and there remain tens of thousands of contaminated sites throughout the world. In order to protect human health and the integrity of the environment, engineers study the transport and fate of pollutants through natural systems (see Environmental Transport Modeling) and design treatment systems to restore contaminated sites (see Remediation of Contaminated Sites). The second goal is to control waste streams generated as a result of human activities. The treatment of dirty effluents represents environmental engineers “dealing with the present,” or managing human-generated wastes and byproducts so that they are not released in a way that threatens the integrity of the environment; relevant core disciplines include Wastewater Treatment, Air Pollution Control, and Solid and Hazardous Waste Treatment. Recent advances focus on minimizing waste generation by reusing, recycling, and recovering resources. The third goal is to provide and ensure safe water, air, and land for future generations of humans and organisms. Pollution avoidance and future resource protection can be viewed as “planning for the future.” In addition to ensuring clean ambient air, water, and soil, and providing safe drinking water (see Water Supply and Treatment) for all people, this ambitious goal is encouraging groundbreaking work in sustainable development and green engineering. While there is a significant degree of overlap between environmental science and environmental engineering, one of the primary distinctions is that environmental engineers bridge natural systems with engineered systems and the built environment. Environmental scientists aim to understand natural systems and cycles in the environment. Both scientists and engineers work to understand the influence of human activities on these systems and cycles. Environmental engineers utilize this knowledge to design and implement strategies for minimizing the adverse effects of human activities on the integrity of water, air, and land resources. Addressing these objectives requires fundamental knowledge in a diverse set of disciplines—including, for example, chemistry, biology, physics, hydrology, geology, ecology, atmospheric science, risk assessment, life cycle assessment, toxicology, epidemiology, economics, social science, civil engineering, chemical engineering, and industrial ecology—as well as a broad understanding of governing regulations, economic drivers, and social influences. In this way, environmental engineering overlaps with many other fields of study, including environmental science.


There are a number of comprehensive textbooks that are commonly used in environmental engineering courses and as resources for practitioners. Included in this section are representative textbooks that cover a breadth of topics within environmental engineering, including introductory textbooks (Mihelcic, et al. 2014; Davis and Masten 2013; Mines and Lackey 2009; Masters and Ela 2007) and more advanced texts (Mines 2014, Davis and Cornwell 2012, Nemerow, et al. 2009, Nazaroff and Alvarez-Cohen 2001). While most texts are geared for the classroom, Mines 2014 is particularly well-suited for practitioners. Textbooks that are specific to a subdiscipline are included in later sections. Unless noted, all textbooks include practice problems that supplement the text.

  • Davis, Mackenzie, and David Cornwell. 2012. Introduction to environmental engineering. 5th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

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    Includes new sections on risk assessment, sustainability, and green engineering, and has up-to-date EPA standards and regulations. It is used both in upper-level undergraduate courses and as a basis for graduate–level courses and is useful as a stand-alone reference.

  • Davis, Mackenzie, and Susan J. Masten. 2013. Principles of environmental engineering and science. 3d ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

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    This book is intended for sophomore- or junior-level undergraduate students and gives balanced treatment to both environmental science and environmental engineering. Its focus is on basic principles rather than engineering design. Case studies are included in most chapters.

  • Masters, Gilbert M., and Wendell P. Ela. 2007. Introduction to environmental engineering and science. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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    This is a readable text suitable for undergraduate students. It includes all of the basic principles of environmental science and engineering, although it’s possibly better suited for those with more of an interest in the science.

  • Mihelcic, James R., Julie B. Zimmerman, and Martin T. Auer. 2014. Environmental engineering: Fundamentals, sustainability, design. 2d ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.

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    Sustainability and sustainable design concepts are incorporated throughout the text, which helps to give context to the fundamental principles and traditional environmental engineering problems presented. Extensive supplemental material—including online resources, classroom materials and learning exercises—make this an excellent choice for teaching.

  • Mines, Richard O. 2014. Environmental engineering: Principles and practice. Chichester, UK: John Wiley.

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    An exceptionally comprehensive text for advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and practitioners. Detailed example problems, often including real data, with a focus on design. Excellent resource for designing, sizing, and modeling treatment systems.

  • Mines, Richard O., and Laura W. Lackey. 2009. Introduction to environmental engineering. New York: Prentice Hall.

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    This introductory text is much more condensed than many of the other textbooks. It includes a section on environmental engineering as a profession and is intended as an overview or for students who are beginning their studies.

  • Nazaroff, William W., and Lisa Alvarez-Cohen. 2001. Environmental engineering science. New York: John Wiley.

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    Systematically organized to cover fundamental principles, followed by their applications in water quality engineering, air quality engineering, and hazardous waste management. Appendices are an asset and include chemical properties, federal regulations for air and water quality, and analytical methods for environmental engineering. Intended for advanced undergraduate and introductory graduate courses.

  • Nemerow, Nelson L., Franklin J. Agardy, Patrick Sullivan, and Joseph A. Salvato, eds. 2009. Environmental engineering: Prevention and response to water-, food-, soil-, and air-borne disease and illness. 6th ed. New York: John Wiley.

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    This book has been a long-standing reference since it was first published in 1958. It is organized by pathways and prevention of disease through different media, and includes a global perspective on environmental engineering practices.

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