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What does a Sanitation Engineer do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A sanitation engineer researches, designs, and builds the various structures and facilities related to the preservation of public health, including wastewater treatment plants, sewer systems, and municipal water supplies. Professional engineers use their expert knowledge of math, physics, and environmental science to construct efficient sanitation systems and protect the health and safety of citizens. They help to control the spread of diseases, ensure safe drinking water, regulate landfills, organize recycling efforts and promote conservation.

A successful sanitation engineer must have a detailed understanding of mathematics, statistics, and physics in order to create safe, efficient structures. It is important for modern engineers to become proficient with computers and the Internet, as they rely on computer-aided drafting software and online simulation programs to draw plans for new systems and put them through hypothetical tests. In addition, sanitation engineers must be knowledgeable of environmental science, public health, local laws, and building codes.

When a new facility or sanitation system is needed, a team of professionals led by a senior sanitation engineer researches existing systems, considers options, and determines the most cost-effective strategy. They investigate the environmental impacts that a new facility will have and ensure that it will not pose health risks to flora or fauna in the area. The team works together to create blueprints, survey the building site, and organize construction crews. During the actual construction process, engineers often visit the site to supervise workers and ensure that components are installed exactly according to blueprints.

A person who wants to become a sanitation engineer is usually required to obtain a bachelor's degree or higher in environmental engineering or public health. Most engineers spend one to two years working under the supervision of established professionals in order to learn the fundamentals of the job and gain important firsthand knowledge of policies, procedures, and regulations. A new sanitation engineer can improve his or her qualifications and employment opportunities by taking certification exams administered by nationally recognized organizations, such as the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying in the United States. Individuals who successfully complete certification exams can obtain Professional Engineer and Integrated Urban Engineer credentials.

Professionals who gain experience in the field and pursue master's degrees can become supervisors or senior sanitation engineers, where they can lead teams of scientists and other engineers on large-scale projects. Some skilled individuals are able to obtain high-ranking government positions in local, state, and federal offices, helping to create new policy regulations and influencing political decisions about environmental protection and public health.

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Discussion Comments

By ceilingcat — On Sep 26, 2011

@JessicaLynn - You're right, I certainly don't think about waste management on a daily basis.

I think it's probably a good thing that sanitation engineers need to have a background in public health as well as engineering. How could you design an effective sanitation system if you didn't understand the principles of public health? I could imagine someone lacking this knowledge building a waste management facility that was sound by engineering standards, but unhealthy for the public somehow!

By JessicaLynn — On Sep 26, 2011

It's mind boggling when you think of all the things that are involved in waste management. I think a lot of people take modern conveniences for granted.

We put our trash in the dumpster or flush the toilet, and it's like the waste just magically goes away! I know I don't really think about all the stuff involved in these processes on a daily basis.

I'm glad there are people who do though! I also think this would be a really smart field to go into, if you have any interest in engineering. I know the need for sanitation isn't going to go away any time soon!

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