In 1917, Dr. Headlee of the Department of Entomology at the Agricultural Experiment Station, New Brunswick, N.J., was requested to investigate an infestation of psychoda flies at the trickling filters of the Plainfield, N.J., Joint Meeting Sewage Plant. It became obvious that fly infestations were only one of many problems involved with wastewater treatment, and in April 7, 1920, an Act was passed by the state legislature (N.J. Laws 1920, Chapter 126, page 263) authorizing an investigation of the biology of sewage disposal to the end that more effective methods of sewage purification might be discovered and applied to the purification of sewage in this state.
This Act caused the formation of the first multidisciplinary organization in the country directed towards the solution of water pollution problems through the application of sewage purification techniques. This organization was founded at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and thus followed the multidisciplinary approaches already being employed by departments involved in the solution of agricultural problems.
Since this time, public awareness of environmental problems has constantly expanded, and the Department has continued to develop its teaching and research capabilities to meet new concerns as they arise. Although water and wastewater treatment have remained areas of considerable attention, present interest also includes aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem function; air pollution; meteorology and atmospheric sciences; site remediation; environmental health, noise pollution, and industrial hygiene; hazardous waste treatment and disposal; assessment of the sources, extents, and effects of environmental contamination, especially by toxic or carcinogenic substances; and the development of methods employed in their detection and determination.
Environmental Science, therefore, can be summarized as the systematic application of scientific techniques to the understanding of ecosystem function and to the protection of the air, water, and land environment. Bounded on one side by conservation (dealing with the protection of natural resources), and on the other side by medicine (dealing with the protection of human beings) and coexistent with the other disciplines that may be dedicated to environmental protection (law, political science, planning and environmental management, economics, etc.), Environmental Science directs attention towards the origin, transport, interaction, distribution, detection and effects of environmental contaminants, and the methodologies required to solve or lessen the problems caused by such contaminants.
Facilitating the highly interdisciplinary research in environmental sciences, the departments of radiation sciences, soils & crops, and meteorology were integrated into the Department of Environmental Sciences' faculty and curriculum options during the late 1980s to early 1990s.