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Environmental Forensics: an Authentic Blend of Science, Engineering, and Liberal Arts Ingredients

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Engineering in a Societal Context

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

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Paper Authors


Ashraf Ghaly P.E. Union College

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Ashraf Ghaly is Director of Engineering and Carl B. Jansen Professor of Engineering at Union College, Schenectady, NY. Published over 250 papers, technical notes, and reports. Supervised over 50 research studies. Registered PE in NYS. ASCE Fellow and Member of the Chi-Epsilon Civil Engineering Honor Society.

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Environmental forensics is a rich topic that encompasses many technical as well as non-technical fields. These include science, engineering, ethics, law, insurance, society, litigation, policy, economics, pollution/contamination, cleanup, testing, standards, and sustainability. This interesting mixture of subjects provides a fertile ground for an interdisciplinary course. Sources of environmental problems are usually related to emissions, pollution, contamination, and/or waste disposal. Whether the cause is intentional or non-intentional, natural factors or a man-made disaster, or due to normal operation or accident, a crisis ensues and cleanup becomes necessary. This inevitably leads to legal actions and litigations that rely on experts in conducting scientific investigations to establish the facts surrounding potential controversies. Some of the pivotal questions related to environmental forensics investigations include: who caused the contamination, when did the contamination occur, how did the contamination occur, was it accidental or a series of routine operating releases, how extensive is the contamination, is there evidence of neglect or fraud, what levels of contamination have people been exposed to, can environmental forensics assist in allocating remediation costs, and most importantly, who will pay for the cleanup effort. To answer these questions one needs to discuss topics such as liability, site history, environmental site assessment, insurance litigation, toxic tort, science tools, sampling, statistical analysis, chemical fingerprinting, contaminant transport models, evidence evaluation, risk assessment, and expert testimony. This interdisciplinary course made extensive use of case studies to illustrate the goal of studying the above subjects. Students were asked to write two position papers on cases that have already been settled in court to express their opinion regarding the outcomes of the cases. In addition, students were also required to write and present a paper on an actual legal case of their choice that involved litigation founded in forensics. This course served educational and investigative goals and provided students with thorough insight into the inseparable relationship between science, engineering, and the liberal arts which added to students’ appreciation of the contribution each area of knowledge makes toward building well-rounded individuals capable of facing the challenges of today’s complex world.

Ghaly, A. (2018, June), Environmental Forensics: an Authentic Blend of Science, Engineering, and Liberal Arts Ingredients Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30436

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