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Environmental Engineering

Textbook : Environmental Engineering Fundamentals, Sustainability, Design

James R. Mihelcic and Julie Beth Zimmerman

1. Ecological Factors
1.1 Introduction to Environmental Engineering 1.2 Ecology of Life 1.3 Biogeochemical Cycles 1.4 Ecosystems

Engineers play a crucial role in improving living standards throughout the world. As a result, engineers can have a significant impact on progress towards sustainable development.

While we have made tremendous strides in addressing the most egregious environmental insults and maintained a growing economy, the environmental challenges of today are more subtle and more complex.

They involve clear connections between emissions to air, land, and water and come from highly distributed sources. We also have a much higher level of understanding of the linkages among society, the economy, and the environment.

In this case, scientific, technological, and policy innovations are recognized as powerful tools for advancing these areas for mutual benefit.

It is through new scientific, technological, and policy innovation that we can maintain economic prosperity while also improving the quality of life for our citizens.

This goal of creating and maintaining a prosperous society needs to be met without the negative impacts that have historically harmed our natural resources, the environment, and communities.

This requires a new perspective and new understanding of the environmental damages that have been traditionally associated with development.

As Albert Einstein stated, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Through awareness of sustainability, defined in the next section, we can simultaneously advance society, the environment, and the economy for the long-term prosperity of future generations.

Engineers, in particular, have a unique role to play, because they have a direct effect on the design and development of products, processes, and systems, as well as on natural systems through material selection, project siting, and the end-oflife handling of products.

The world's population exceeds 6 billion, and 80 million people are added each year. Resource consumption per capita also is on the rise.

Just two more doublings of the human impact on the world's natural resources through a combination of population increase and consumption-fueled economic growthwould result in 100 percent of the net primary production being utilized by humans.

This ecological impossibility would leave ecosystems with nothing.

The results could also have catastrophic implications for humans, because of our well-established reliance on ecosystems for economic prosperity .

As the world's population and per capita consumption increases, so does the urgency for engineers to protect and enhance the environments and communities where people reside.

This, however, will present numerous challenges to engineers.

Existing and Emerging Environmental lssues 1. Globalization, trade, and development 2. Coping with climate change and variability 3. Growth of megacities 4. Human vuhierability to climate change 5. Freshwater depletion and degradation

Existing and Emerging Environmental lssues 6. Marine and coastal degradation 7. Population growth 8. Rising consumption in developing countries 9. Biodiversity depletion 10. Biosecurity

What is Sustainability?
Sustainable engineering is defined as the design of human and industrial systems to ensure that humankind's use of natural resources and cycles do not lead to diminished quality of life due either to losses in future economic opportunities or to adverse impacts on social conditions, human health, and the environment. Mihelcic ef al., 2003)

Under this definition, sustainability requires integrating the three elements of the triple bottom line (environment, economy, society). Most definitions incorporate the triple bottom line, along with the aim of meeting the needs of current and future generations.

This definition, unlike many in the sustainability literature, explicitly describes a role for engineers by highlighting the design of human-made systems.

However, as demonstrated in The Limits to Growth, in the past, society has "evolved around the principle of fighting against limits rather than learning to live with them."

Historically, humans could live within a system of finite resources.

Not only did they have access to a relatively large amount of resources and available land, but they also had a limited population that produced a limited amount of pollutants.

However, with population increasing and industrial production and consumption on the rise, this historical trend of a world that can moderate the environmental impact of humans might not be feasible in the long term.

Read the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs)

Issues That Will Affect Engineering Practice in the Future

In the ongoing debate over the major challenges to sustainability, key problems and most engaged in solutions involve engineering systems related to:
water quality Climate air quality sanitation, waste management Health Energy food production chemicals and materials built environment

These issues pose local and global challenges that uniquely affect communities located in every part of the world and are closely related to population and demographics.

Solutions will require an integrated approach that combines technology, governance, and economics. With an understanding of these broader issues, current engineering design can be engaged more effectively to advance the goal of local, regional, and global sustainability.


The current global population of 6 billion is expected to reach 9 billion to 10 billion people during this century .

The impact of population growth has long been understood as one of the grand challenges to mutually advancing environmental, economic, and societal goals and creating a sustainable future.

It also has a great impact on how we manage natural resources and design and invest in engineering infrastructure.

Most population growth is occurring in the developing world, especially in urban areas, while population is stagnantand in some cases decliningin much of the industrialized world.

This pattern of population growth suggests thatwithin the complexities of growing populations, including birth and mortality rates, sociopolitical pressures, access to health care and education, gender equality, and cultural normsan empirical correlation exists between the rate of population growth and the level of economic development, which often is equated with quality of life.

This relation would mean that meeting the challenges of stabilizing population growth and advancing the goal of sustainability is possible through improved quality of life and expanded development that is equitable and thus sustainable.

Historically, however, increases in development and quality of life have been inextricably linked with consumption and associated resource depletion and environmental degradation.

A significant amount of evidence suggests that an increasing human population places additional strain on natural resources as society begins to develop its infrastructure.

The opportunity for the engineering community is to continue to develop and enhance quality of life through the protection and restoration of ecosystems and to design, develop, implement, and maintain infrastructure that does not have the historical consequences of environmental degradation, resource consumption, and adverse and unjust impacts on society.

One of the environmental issues listed in is the growth of megacities, a process called urbanization. For the first time in human history, urban population exceeds rural population.

In fact, by 2030, 61 percent of the global population is expected to live in urban areas. Urbanization is widely recognized to be a source of health problems.

For example, 30 to 60 percent of the urban population in the developing world lacks adequate sanitary facilities, drainage systems, and piping for clean water.

2. Health
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that poor environmental quality contributes to 25 ,percent of all preventable illnesses in the world. In addition, WHO reports that 900 million people lack access to an improved water supplya household connection, public standpipe, borehole, protected dug well, protected spring, or rainwater collection (see Table 1.3).

(Bottled water is not considered an improved water supply.)

Access to adequate sanitation is even worse, with 2.5 billion people lacking access to any type of sanitation equipment.

One consequence is devastating ecological impact on surface waters that receive domestic water processed by households and businesses, because more than 90 percent of the waste-water in developing countries and 33 percent in developed countries is not treated (WHO, 1999).

This has led to dire consequences for downstream communities' water supplies and for fishing communities dependent on aquatic ecosystems for their economic livelihood.

Because many disease-causing vectors are transmitted through contact with water, air, and solid waste, health issues are critical to the environmeiital engineering profession. As WHO points out, health is inextricably linked to sustainable development.

HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are among the world's largest killers. All have their greatest impact on developing nations, interact in ways that make their combined impact worse, and create an enormous economic burden on families and communitiesespecially those where economic livelihood depends on good health (UNESA, 2004)

Much of the burden of this risk is assumed by people living in the developing world.

Note that almost half of the risk is associated with poor access to drinking water and sanitation, and much of the other half is due to exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution.

How can health problem be an economic problem?

For people living in poverty, illness and disability translate directly into loss of income. This can be devastating for individuals and their families who are dependent on their health for household income. (WHO, 2004)

The effects of ill health have significant ramifications at the macroeconomic scale as well. For instance, a significant portion of Africa's economic shortfall is attributed to climate and disease burden.

Environmental degradation can have an even more direct effect on household income. The income derived from ecosystems (that is, environmental income) provides a fundamental stepping stone in the economic empowerment of the rural poor" (WRI, 2005). This "natural capital" provided by the environment is the stock that yields the flow of ,. natural resources. Those resources may be either renewable (for example, fish, trees.

Those resources may be either renewable (for exampIe, fish, trees) or nonrenewable (for example, petroleum).

Nonrenewable natural capital can be depleted, while renewable natural capital can either be left alone to regenerate or be cultivated with the use of human-made capital, such as fish ponds, cattle herds or forest plantation.

Study: 1. Water, Scarcity, Conflict, and Resolution 2. Energy and Climate 3. Toxic Chemicals and Finite Resources Recitation next meeting. Assignment will be written on short bond paper

Water Scarcity, Conflict, and Resolution

Water scarcity is a. situation where there is insufficient water to satisfy normal human requirements.

Normal human requirements are, perhaps visualized best by the World Health Organization definition for reasonable access to a water source: availability of at least 20L/capita-day from a source within 1 km of the user's dwelling.

A country is defined as experiencing water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m3 per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 m3 per person, the country is defined as water scarce.

By one measure, nearly 2 billion people now suffer from severe water scarcity.

Furthermore, of the additional one billion people expected to face water scarcity by the year 2025, 20% will be associated with direct effects of climate change.

Water stress causes deterioration of fresh water resources in terms of quantity (overexploitation of groundwater, dry rivers, etc.) and quality (organic matter pollution, eutrophication, saltwater intrusion, etc.).

Eutrophication - The process by which a body of water acquires a high concentration of nutrients, especially phosphates and nitrates. These typically promote excessive growth of algae. As the algae die and decompose, high levels of organic matter and the decomposing organisms deplete the water of available oxygen, causing the death of other organisms, such as fish. Eutrophication is a natural, slow-aging process for a water body, but human activity greatly speeds up the process.

Water is expected to be a source of both tension and cooperation in the future.

This is because more than 215 major rivers and 300 groundwater aquifers are shared by two or more countries.

An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock or unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, or silt) from which groundwater can be extracted using a water well.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) consists of 30 member countries. The OECD Development Assistant Committee writes that "Water-related tensions can emerge on various geographical scales.

The international community can help address factors that determine whether these tensions will lead to violent conflict. Water can also be the focus of measures to improve trust and cooperation. "

Energy and Climate

U.S. energy consumption in all sectors has increased in the past 30 years and is projected to increase in the future.

Much of the energy consumption is in sectors designed, constructed, and managed by engineers (for example, transportation and residential and commercial buildings).

Breakdown of fuels that provide electricity in the United States, including the small percentage of U.S. energy needs currentlyand projected to beprovided by renewable energy sources.


This demonstrates that engineers should be concerned about the source and use of energy in every decision they make.

Energy consumption is one reason why greenhouse gas emissions are causing changes in global climate. The majority of these emissions are associated with burning fossil fuels for energy, with a smaller amount associated with land use.

The more than 2,000 notable predict that the likely range of temperature increase in the next century will range from 2.4C to 6.4C The global consequences of warming will be significant.

Expected impacts on water, ecosystems, food, coastal areas, and health as they relate to the specific increase in global mean temperature.

Not only are ecosystems and wildlife heavily dependent on climate, but human health and the economy are as well.

The impact of climate change will differ by location. Economic sectors that depend on agriculture will struggle with more variability in weather patterns, and the insurance industry will have a difficult time responding to more catastrophic weather events.

Variations in climate have influenced engineering decisions related to issues of water supply and use, resulting in a fixed and manageable infrastructure that was based on best practices at the time but is now struggling to meet current demand.

The nation's 54,000 drinking-water systems face staggering public investment needs over the next 20 years.

As climate, population, and demographics change in the future, engineers must not only incorporate technological advances to reduce energy and water usage, but also make use of renewable sources of energy and materials.

Engineers designing infrastructure must anticipate future growth, societal behavior, and other factors that affect demand during the intended lifetime of the infrastructure projects.

Toxic Chemicals and Finite Resources

The use, generation, and release of toxic chemicals to the environment remains a global issue.

In the United States alone, more than 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released by industry into air, land, and water in 2004, including 72 million pounds of recognized carcinogens, according to the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and other toxic chemicals, including endocrine disruptors, are serious global concerns.

As these chemicals cycle through natural and human systems, they pose significant risks to ecosystem function and human health, because humans are exposed to these chemicals by breathing air, drinking water, and eating food.

This is especially important for susceptible populations such as children, pregnant women, and the elderly. Engineers play a significant role in reducing the risks associated with the use and generation of these chemicals.

Ideally, they achieve this by designing products, processes, and systems that do not specify these chemicals in production, repair, operation, and maintenance.

Another important contribution engineers can make is understanding the fate and transport of these chemicals so that damage to natural systems and exposure to humans can be eliminated or minimized.

When it comes to materials, another concern beyond toxicity is our current reliance on nonrenewable resources, which will likely grow in magnitude as the population increases.

A renewable resource is any natural resource that is depleted at a rate slower than the rate at which it regenerates or that is unlikely to be depleted in the conceivable future.

For the current population of our planet to live at the same , quality of life would require the resources of four Earths

Engineers can contribute to meeting this challenge in several ways.

The first is to incorporate renewable resources into designs and specifications.

The second is to design products, processes, and systems for high material efficiency, reducing the amount of material acquired, manufactured, and later wasted.

There is also significant opportunity to improve our current material efficiency. "Recent analysis has found that, of all raw materials used in manufacturing processes, 94 percent ends up as waste

In addition, 99 percent of the original material used in the production of or contained in U.S. goods becomes waste within six weeks of sale (Lovins, 1997).

The majority of those discarded materials are from nonrenewable resources, particularly petroleum, which adds to environmental and human health impacts.