What does a Sanitary Engineer do?

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  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2019
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A sanitary engineer is a professional skilled in applying certain engineering principles in order to preserve public health and safety. While the areas of concern to a sanitary engineer are largely related to the proper collection and disposal of waste materials, this does not mean that the job is restricted to picking up misplaced garbage. On the contrary, the job is primarily focused on protecting people from the spread of disease by employing various measures to prevent public waterways and lands from becoming contaminated with environmental and industrial pollutants. Another major aspect of the job is developing remediation strategies to make land and water systems safe for habitation or consumption once more.


Sanitary engineering is also considered an interdisciplinary field that involves multiple engineering models. For instance, while virtually all sanitary engineers must be knowledgeable in the principles of chemistry and microbiology as they pertain to water treatment and disease prevention, others are directly involved in the design and construction of water treatment systems. The sanitary engineer must also typically apply the principles of fluid mechanics in order to channel and direct the flow of closed treatment and irrigation systems as well as open systems that occur naturally, such as rivers, estuaries, and other bodies of water. Providing consultation services of this nature often necessitates an ability to analyze linear, topographic, and hydrographic surveys, as well as demonstrate effective project management skills. In addition, a sanitary engineer is expected to be knowledgeable in public health and safety laws.

Sometimes, this branch of engineering may border on one or more social sciences. In fact, some engineers are given the task of spearheading community stewardship programs, such as those designed to permit the public adoption of certain water or land areas to help keep them free of debris. They may also organize periodic collection drives of household hazardous chemicals and other materials that are difficult to dispose of, such as yard and construction waste. In addition, some sanitary engineers engage in collecting and analyzing social data, such as economic and demographic statistics relevant to specific populated areas.

The majority of jobs in this field are usually found within the public works department of various towns, villages, and cities. However, others may find employment with private construction companies and architectural firms, as well as public utility companies. Entry into the field requires a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent, and an aptitude for mathematics, physics, and mechanical engineering. Those who complete the necessary training and coursework are eligible for professional certification by an accredited agency. In the US, this may be The American Society of Sanitary Engineering. In the UK, engineers may register with the Engineering Council UK.


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