Sanitary engineering is the application of engineering methods to improve sanitation of human communities, primarily by providing the removal and disposal of human waste, and in addition to the supply of safe potable water. Traditionally, a branch of civil engineering, in the mid 19th century, the discipline concentrated on the reduction of disease, then thought to be caused by miasma. This was accomplished mainly by the collection and segregation of sewerage flow in London specifically, and Great Britain generally.1 These and later regulatory improvements were reported in the United States as early as 1865.2
It is not concerned with environmental factors that do not have an immediate and clearly understood effect on public health. Areas outside the purview of sanitary engineering include traffic management, concerns about noise pollution or light pollution, aesthetic concerns such as landscaping, and environmental conservation as it pertains to plants and animals.
Skills within this field are usually employed for the primary goal of disease prevention within human beings by assuring a supply of healthy drinking water, treatment of waste water, removing garbage from inhabited areas, and so on.
Compared to (for example) electrical engineering or mechanical engineering which are concerned primarily with closed systems, sanitary engineering is a very interdisciplinary field which may involve such elements as hydraulics, constructive modelling, information technology, project design, microbiology, pathology and the many divisions within environmental science and environmental technology. In some cases, considerations that fall within the field of social sciences and urban planning must be factored in as well.
Although sanitary engineering may be most associated with the design of sewers, sewage treatment and waste water treatment facilities, recycling centers, public landfills and other things which are constructed, the term applies equally to (for example) a plan of action to reverse the effects of water pollution or soil contamination in a specific area.
Generally, sanitary engineers work for municipalities and are highly trained professionals with a diverse range of engineering skills. Some are involved with a specific area of concern such as waste collection or the maintenance of waste water facilities and storm water drainage systems within a district.
Others cover a broader scope of activities that might include the two just listed as well as such maintenance of the public water supply, collection of residential yard waste program, disposal of hazardous waste, recycling strategies and even community programs where individuals or businesses "adopt" an area and either maintain it themselves or donate funds for doing so.