What is Sanitary Engineering?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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Sanitary engineering is a design and construction specialty that confronts issues related to public health. Professionals in the field build new sanitation systems and renovate existing structures to improve health and safety. By incorporating elements of mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and biological science, workers are able to provide better water quality and waste removal for citizens. Most sanitary engineering projects are headed by government agencies, but private companies and consulting firms also contribute.

Proper sanitation is essential to preserve the health of humans and wildlife. Without proper systems to safely dispose of waste and purify water resources, people are at serious risk of contracting deadly diseases. Sanitary engineers consult with chemists, physicists, and environmental scientists to determine the best ways of improving public systems. They research many different methods when designing a new system to dispose of hazardous waste or remove particulates from drinking water.

Like engineers in other specialties, sanitary engineering professionals draw blueprints, make computer models, and develop prototypes before initiating a new construction project. They run computer simulations and small-scale physical experiments to test the effectiveness of a system. A team of engineers might, for example, want to improve a wastewater treatment plant by installing new centrifuges to separate large particles from the water. They would put a small centrifuge through a series of lab tests to confirm the method's effectiveness before submitting plans to the plant developers.


Once a design is approved, engineers often act as supervisors at construction sites. They oversee construction to make sure that blueprint details are followed exactly. Once a structure is completed, engineers inspect the quality of workmanship, test the system, and determine if adjustments need to be made.

Sanitary engineering is a constantly evolving industry, and new technologies are being developed every year. Professionals who choose careers in the specialty stay up-to-date on the latest innovations by reading journals, attending seminars, and participating in continuing education courses. It is also important for engineers to know about current regional and federal laws regarding the use of certain chemicals to make sure their plants comply with safety standards.

People who are interested in sanitary engineering careers can find out about the requirements by contacting municipal government agencies and consulting firms in their regions. Entry-level jobs as laborers and engineering assistants can usually be obtained with minimal experience and high school diplomas. A person who wants to become a senior engineer and lead projects typically needs to hold at least a bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty, pass a licensing exam, and gain several years of experience.


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