What’s in Our Water?

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Did you know that trace amounts of antibiotics, antihistamines, and a variety of other drugs commonly ingested by Americans are showing up in municipal water supplies?

While the low concentrations generally aren't considered dangerous over the short term, no one knows about the long-term human and ecological effects.

Thus, CU-Boulder Professor Karl Linden established the Center for Environmental Mass Spectrometry a few years ago to provide new, highly accurate data on the presence of pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic contaminants in water, and to evaluate the effectiveness of methods for removing these compounds. A variety of students and colleagues from the U.S. Geological Survey are joining Linden in the research.

"Basic water-treatment technology, both for wastewater and for drinking water, has changed in recent years, now including options such as treatment by ozone, UV, and activated carbon," says Linden.

"We're looking at the problem from a number of angles—first, to help define this growing problem and to investigate the need for more testing and treatment at the municipal level. We also are working with people around the world to help find cost-effective solutions by evaluating various water-treatment options."

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Why study at CU-Boulder?

CU-Boulder’s undergraduate environmental engineering program emphasizes sustainable, multidisciplinary approaches to managing the unique challenges and balancing the competing social, political, economic and technical goals of environmental problems and solutions. The degree provides mastery of principles and practices, inspires service for the global public good, and prepares students for graduate school, professional licensure and broad and dynamic careers.

Environmental engineering students enjoy extensive hands-on learning opportunities through laboratory courses, field work, and undergraduate research positions. Through service learning activities such as Engineers without Borders, students apply their knowledge to real-world projects that improve the quality of life for people in developing countries. Students can also gain professional exposure through the student chapter of the Society of Environmental Engineers.

Environmental engineers can find jobs in every state and internationally. Government agencies at the municipal, state, or federal level need environmental engineers. There are also many jobs in private corporations, including industrial manufacturers and engineering consulting businesses. Job choices for environmental engineers include research, private practice and consulting, construction, industry, and teaching.

Research Opportunities

Undergraduate students are encouraged to pursue research opportunities through independent study, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the Discovery Learning Apprenticeship program, or research assistantships with faculty. Possible topics include developing improved cook stoves for remote villages and testing whether they improve indoor air quality for families in the Peruvian highlands; understanding what happened to oil and dispersants released into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon disaster; developing small devices for monitoring air pollution and using them to study when and where individuals are exposed to unhealthy air; designing treatment systems for complete water recycling for space exploration applications; and investigating how mercury cycles through the environment and what controls its conversion to methyl-mercury, the most toxic form.

Where do CU graduates work?

CU graduates in environmental engineering are employed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, as well as such companies as Abengoa Solar, Chevron, LT Environmental, Richard Arber Associates, Trihydro Corp., and many others.

About 20 percent of CU-Boulder engineering bachelor’s graduates (college-wide) continue onto graduate school, gaining admittance to top schools such as MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, University of California Berkeley, and the University of Texas at Austin.


Job Outlook

Environmental engineers are expected to have a much faster than average growth rate with employment projected to increase 31 percent or more through 2018.  (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)


Starting Salary

The average salary nationally for environmental engineering graduates with a bachelor's degree in 2010 was $48,980. A comparable figure for CU-Boulder graduates is not available because the sampling size was too small to be statistically valid.

Important Announcements

CUEngineering:  A publication for alumni and friends. Read the 2016 edition of CUEngineering magazine here.

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