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... in geoenvironmental engineering

With the Government putting pressure on developers to build on brownfield land there has never been a better time to be a geoenvironmental engineer, says Jan Hellings, technical director ground technology at Maunsell.

Now is a great time to be involved in the engineering of brownfield sites, many of which include contaminated land. The Government wants about two-thirds of all new housing to be built on such sites and, with the housing market as buoyant as it is, geoenvironmental engineers will be busy for the foreseeable future.

Turning land which is often in such a state that it is a hazard into land suitable for development is not only satisfying; it is also sustainability at work.

A multidisciplinary team is required to assess and remediate (clean up) contaminated land. This often includes a ground engineer, a chemist, a hydrogeologist and a risk assessor. In my view, the civil engineer who specialises in geoenvironmental engineering is well placed (and trained) to lead such a team. He or she will have an appreciation for the ground and groundwater and its behaviour, and should also have some understanding of chemistry. Moreover, the civil engineer will have the necessary training and experience to head up a project team and to liase with the client, 'translating' complicated scientific and engineering issues into understandable English. In particular, the engineer is used to dealing with risk - after all, we are brought up on 'factors of safety'.

According to soon-to-be-published Government guidelines, it will be the engineer's task to explain to project funders and developers how, even though there may be contamination in the ground, it can be made safe for the purpose of a specific development.

There are several routes civil engineers can take to become geoenvironmental engineers. Some universities are combining soil mechanics and geoenvironmental engineering. One is Imperial College with its MSc in soil mechanics and environmental geotechnics. On such courses, students will learn about the various ways of remediating contaminated sites, from encapsulation to 'dig and dispose' to in-situ techniques.

A civil engineer with an appropriate MSc and a few years' experience in contaminated land assessment and remediation should have no trouble finding rather well paid employment these days. Jan Hellings is also chairman of the Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineers (AGS), and of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) Environmental Committee.

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