Air Quality Engineers

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has composed a list of more than 150 regions of the United States that are out of compliance with federal air quality regulations—some dramatically so—and provided deadlines within the next 20 years to bring these areas under control. The EPA regulations cover everything from car emissions to the greenhouse effect and have the weight of law behind them. There are few industries that will not be touched somehow by this legislation and few that will not require the services of an air quality engineer in the years to come.

Air quality engineers are the professionals who monitor targeted industries or sources to determine whether they are operating within acceptable emissions levels. These engineers suggest changes in the setup of specific companies, or even whole industries, to lessen their impact on the atmosphere. There will be ample opportunity in this field to combine interests, precisely because it is a relatively new field with job paths that are not well established. An air quality engineer with some background in meteorology, for example, might track the spread of airborne pollutants through various weather systems, using computer modeling techniques. Another air quality engineer might research indoor air pollution, discovering causes for the "sick building syndrome" and creating new architectural standards and building codes for safe ventilation and construction materials.

Air quality engineers work for the government, in private industry, as consultants, and in research and development. Government employees are responsible for monitoring a region, citing infractions, and otherwise enforcing government regulations. These workers may be called to give testimony in cases against noncompliant companies. They must deal with public concerns and opinions and are themselves regulated by government bureaucracy and regulations.

Air quality engineers in private industry work within industry or a large company to ensure that air quality regulations are being met. They might develop instrumentation to continuously monitor emissions, for example, and use the data to formulate methods of control. They may interact with federal regulators or work independently. Engineers working in private industry also might be involved in green manufacturing. This means figuring out the most environmentally sound way to produce products—from raw material to disposal stages—while maintaining or, if possible, increasing the company's profits.

Engineers who work alone as consultants or for consulting firms do many of the same things as engineers in private industry, perhaps for smaller companies that do not need a full-time engineer but still need help meeting federal requirements. They, too, might suggest changes to be implemented by a company to reduce air pollution. Some consultants specialize in certain areas of pollution control. Many private consultants are responsible for selling, installing, and running a particular control system. The job requires some salesmanship and the motivation to maintain a variable clientele.

Finally, engineers committed to research and development may work in public or private research institutions and in academic environments. They may tackle significant problems that affect any number of industries and may improve air quality standards with the discovery of new contaminates that need regulation.

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