Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Eli Chen

Science Reporter
A charging Nissan Leaf.
Nissan

It's rare for utility companies and environmental groups to agree. But both want the state of Missouri to spend its share of last year's national Volkswagen settlement on electric vehicles and charging stations. 

After the German automaker agreed to spend billions to settle allegations of cheating  emissions standards, Missouri received $41.2 million. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has held several meetings to determine how to spend the money.

Sikeston farmer Trey Wilson said he saw substantial damage to his soybean crops this year. On the left is what a healthy soybean plant looks like; on the right is a soybean plant showing signs of dicamba damage.
Trey Wilson

The Missouri Department of Agriculture has extended its restrictions on dicamba herbicides to products manufactured by Monsanto and DuPont. The new rules are part of the state's effort to curb crop damage for farmers who don't use genetically modified soybeans. 

In the 2018 growing season, farmers in several counties in Missouri's bootheel region will not be allowed to spray Monsanto's XtendiMax and DuPont's FeXapan on dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton after June 1. In the rest of the state, farmers cannot apply either product after July 15. Pesticide applicators can only spray XtendiMax and FeXapan between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., submit daily forms to the department before every application and complete training with the University of Missouri Extension.  The same rules were imposed on BASF's dicamba product Engenia in mid-November. 

Missouri Botanical Garden researcher Ashley Glenn learning to cook in Bosnia from a homemaker named Dunja.
Ashley Glenn | Missouri Botanical Garden

On a recent Saturday, four middle-aged Bosnian women bustled in a warmly lit kitchen at Fontbonne University. Bags of flour and sugar, metal mixing bowls and trays of flaky pastries filled, called pitas, were spread across an island. The air smelled strongly of bread, butter and cheese.

Ashley Glenn, a botanist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, stood next to the women, providing commentary about the food for an audience of about two dozen people. Glenn has spent the last year and a half interviewing more than 100 Bosnians in St. Louis and in Bosnia about their cuisine and food rituals.

An illustration of pollution, 2017
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Jefferson County is one step closer to attaining the federal clean air standard for sulfur dioxide, a noxious gas that can cause asthma and respiratory illness.

The Missouri Air Conservation Commission on Thursday approved the state's recommendation to the Environmental Protection Agency that the county's sulfur dioxide levels are within the federal limit of 75 parts per billion.

An aerial view of Lake of the Ozarks.
Courtesy Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitor Bureau

Missouri will soon adopt new regulations to clean up the state’s 150 large lakes and reservoirs.

But environmentalists contend the state’s plan won’t be strong enough to address pollution caused by harmful nutrients.

Missouri currently does not set limits on nitrogen and phosphorus. A combination of agricultural runoff, stormwater runoff, sewage treatment plant discharges and other sources can cause an excessive amount of the nutrients to enter lakes, rivers and streams. Nutrient pollution can render bodies of water unsuitable for drinking and recreation, cause fish kills, and drag down oxygen levels to create “dead zones,” similar to the one that exists in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Saint Louis University biologist Gerardo Camilo telling a story live on stage at The Story Collider event at The Ready Room on Oct. 5, 2017.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The night began with a story told by a science journalist who tried to cure her autoimmune disease by swallowing parasitic worms. It finished with the story of a young primate researcher who nearly died after being attacked by two chimpanzees. 

On Oct. 5, St. Louis Public Radio and The Story Collider podcast collaborated for the second time to present five personal science stories live, on stage, at The Ready Room. It was the first time I hosted a show with local comedian Zack Stovall since we joined The Story Collider's team of producers last summer. The theme of the night was "Resilience." Some of these stories showed how resilience is necessary to scientific research. Others showed how they used scientific knowledge to overcome major challenges in their lives.

A concentrated animal feeding operation consisting of black and white dairy cows all in a row, feeding from a trough.
U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has rejected demands from a group of central Missouri residents to impose air quality regulations for all concentrated animal feeding operations, regardless of size.

The state's odor rule for confined animal feeding operations only apply to the largest concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, a DNR official told the residents last week. Class 1A CAFOs in Missouri contain at least 17,500 hogs, 7,000 cows or 700,000 chickens.

A wind turbine.
Provided by Ameren Missouri

In a couple of years, Missouri cities and corporations could be receiving more electricity from wind power as Ameren Missouri ramps up its wind power facilities. 

Tesla installed a 200-kilowatt solar array to power the Hospital del Niño in Puerto Rico.
Tesla

About a month ago, PJ Wilson arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where 3.4 million people were left without power after hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Wilson, the former director of Renew Missouri, noticed immediately that many residents were suffering from depression, after having lost their jobs or not being able to reach loved ones by phone. 

A fire rages out of control in a warehouse after walls collapsed during a five-alarm fire in St. Louis last Wednesday. Nearly 200 St. Louis firefighters battled the warehouse containing numerous paper products and nearly 200,000 candles.
BILL GREENBLATT | UPI

Environmental Protection Agency officials say there is no evidence of asbestos in the debris from an intense fire that occurred in south St. Louis last week. 

Officials from the EPA and the St. Louis City Department of Health presented the findings at a Shaw Neighborhood Association meeting Monday night. The EPA sent 80 samples to a laboratory to be tested for asbestos. The first 21 were sampled on Friday in areas close to the warehouse on Park Avenue and test results indicated that three of them contained asbestos fibers.

That prompted the city department of health to request additional samples that were collected the next day in areas downwind from the site.

An illustration of prescription drugs.
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

President Donald Trump's proposal to cut the National Institutes of Health 2018 budget by more than a fifth could severely hamper the ability to deliver life-saving treatments to patients, according to a report by Washington University researchers.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Cell Chemical Biology, researchers looked at 100 of the most prescribed drugs and drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the last decade. The NIH funded 93 percent of the 100 widely prescribed drugs and 97 percent of drugs approved between 2010 and 2016.

Monsanto's widely-used weed killer Roundup on a shelf in Home Depot.
File photo | Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Monsanto and several growers associations filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the state of California for adding the herbicide ingredient glyphosate to a list of cancer-causing substances. 

California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment announced in July it would add glyphosate to Proposition 65. Known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, the California law requires the state to publish a list of substances known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.

Arianna Soldati,  a postdoctoral candidate in volcanology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, presents a basaltic rock, which she collected from a volcano for her research.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

One night at an airport in Syracuse, New York, Arianna Soldati, a postdoctoral candidate in volcanology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, found herself waiting on a continually delayed flight. To pass the time, she opened her suitcase and fished out a bag of volcanic rocks she had collected on a recent trip. Then, she started showing them to people at her gate. 

"Everyone was really excited. Most people have never seen lava before and they had a ton of questions and the delay went by faster than usual," Soldati said. 

Soldati has always found joy in sharing her research with the public, which is why she created a science outreach program this fall to bring science presentations to rural towns in Missouri.

Tower for drilling horizontally into the Marcellus Shale Formation for natural gas in Moreland Township, Pa.
Ruhrfisch | Wikimedia Commons

Natural gas company Spire could soon win federal approval to build a 65-mile pipeline that ferries natural gas from eastern U.S. shale formations to the St. Louis region. However, some residents and environmental lawyers want to put a halt to the project, saying there are too many environmental risks involved with building the pipeline. 

The Spire STL Pipeline would run through Scott, Greene and Jersey counties in Illinois and St. Charles and St. Louis counties in Missouri. Because it crosses state lines, it requires approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which released an environmental assessment of the project at the end of September.

Area residents and environmentalists complain that the project would only encourage more hydraulic fracturing, an activity that emits methane, one of several greenhouse gases that causes climate change.

A drone flies near a bridge
Sodapix | Thinkstock

Missouri could soon send flying drones to the state's bridges, using them to doing difficult and dangerous work long done by workers.

About 56,000 bridges in the United States require major repairs, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Missouri ranks No. 4 in the country for its number of structurally deficient bridges. 

Washington University's Siteman Cancer Center offers patients with certain blood cancers a new gene-altering therapy that uses the immune system to attack cancer cells.
Provided by Washington University in St. Louis

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week approved a drug that genetically modifies a patient's immune cells to attack cancer cells. Washington University's Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital is among the first medical centers to offer the treatment, which is aimed at helping those with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and some types of blood cancers. 

Yescarta, manufactured by California-based Kite Pharmaceuticals, is part of a new wave of drugs that use the immune system to fight cancer, also known as immunotherapy.

This radiation warning sign is one of many posted on the chain link fence surrounding part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.
File photo | Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to conduct further testing for radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton. 

Albert Kelly, senior adviser to EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and the head of the agency's Superfund Task Force, made the announcement at a forum late Thursday, where members of the community voiced concerns about the landfill. Kelly said he expects the sampling to occur within the next 90 days in the western part of the site, a portion that agency officials often refer to as "Operating Unit 2."

The announcement came as good news to area residents, who have long worried that that contamination has damaged their health.

Andrew Oberle, a chimp attack survivor who helped create a holistic trauma program at Saint Louis University, shared his story at a live taping of The Story Collider in October 2017.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

In June 2012, Andrew Oberle, an aspiring primate researcher, was brutally attacked by two chimpanzees at a zoo in South Africa. The animals tore his flesh from head to toe and he nearly died.

But after 26 surgeries and extensive therapies at Saint Louis University Hospital, Oberle recovered. His ability to overcome his traumatic experiences led him to want to help others in who've experienced extreme physical injuries. Today, Oberle serves as the director of development for the Oberle Institute, a trauma care program at Saint Louis University that is supported by foudations. He helps raise funds for the institute and also serves as a patient advocate. 

A prairie that contains the common big bluestem grass.
Provided by Kansas State University

Prairies in Missouri and southern Illinois could look shorter by the end of the century, according to a study from the Missouri Botanical Garden and Kansas State University. 

Researchers reported in the journal Global Change Ecology that tall varieties of the big bluestem grass that covers much of Midwestern prairies could be taken over by shorter forms of the plant over the next several decades. That's because climate change could reduce rainfall in many parts of the region, leading to drier conditions.

Ferguson police officers arrest a protester on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017
Vincent Lang | St. Louis American

 

Ferguson police arrested a handful of protesters late Friday during a demonstration in front of the city’s Police Department.

The arrests, made about 45 minutes into a demonstration billed as a “liberation party,” came after a Ferguson officer used a bullhorn to warn that protesters who were blocking traffic on the street were in violation of a city ordinance.

After the officer had given three warnings, two city police vehicles moved slowly down South Florissant Road with sirens blaring at about 8:40 p.m. As they stopped near the crowd, other officers rushed to the street. Protesters said officers took five people into custody.

Gas extraction wells on the Bridgeton Landfill in summer 2016.
File Photo |Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Residents and environmental activists expressed concerns at a public hearing Wednesday night that the state's pending stormwater permit for the Bridgeton Landfill does not require monitoring for radioactive waste. 

The Bridgeton Landfill sits above an underground smoldering fire, located about 600 feet from the World War II-era radioactive waste that's under the West Lake Landfill Superfund site. Concerns about radioactive contamination in stormwater rose over the summer, when the Missouri Department of Natural Resources released a report showing levels of alpha particles in runoff at Bridgeton Landfill that exceeded drinking water standards after heavy rains in late April. Alpha particles are a type of radiation that does not pierce the skin and must be ingested to damage human health.

A cornfield
File Photo | Adam Allington | St. Louis Public Radio

The National Science Foundation has awarded $3.4 million to researchers at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana and the University of California-Davis to study genes that promote high corn yields.

Advances in crop technology have helped boost corn yields by eightfold in the last century. But productivity of the staple crop has plateaued in recent years and that has pushed researchers to take a closer look at genes that can improve production and help feed the world's rising human population.

An alligator snapping turtle, one of several wild turtle species that live in Missouri.
File Photo | United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Wild turtles in Missouri may soon be protected from trappers, as the Missouri Department of Conservation proposed a ban this week on the commercial harvest of turtles in the state. 

Many wild turtles that are captured and exported from the United States are sold as exotic pets or processed into food and traditional Chinese medicine. Missouri is one of a few states in the country that doesn't impose a limit on how many wild turtles that trappers can collect.

At an experimental mine at the Missouri University of S&T in Rolla, scientists are setting off explosives around lab mice and cell cultures to study how exposure to blasts in combat damage the brains of military personnel.

Neuroscientists at the University of Missouri-Columbia and Stanford University are leading the research, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. The study is focused on mild traumatic brain injury, the most common type of brain injury affecting military personnel. However, the condition is difficult to diagnose and not well studied.

 

A wind turbine.
Provided by Ameren Missouri

Missouri's largest utility company announced plans today that could dramatically reduce its impact on the environment. 

Ameren Missouri released multiple goals it hopes to achieve, which include adding 700 megawatts of wind power generation by 2020, along with 100 megawatts of solar power by 2027. Company leaders are speaking to developers about a potential wind farm project and hope to provide more details by the end of this year.

A sunset at the Great Rivers National Wildlife Refuge in Annada, Mo.
Carmen Cortelyou | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Great River National Wildlife Refuge in Annada, Missouri,  is acquiring two islands on the Mississippi River to protect wildlife and provide more areas for outdoor recreation. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given $677,500 to the refuge in northeast Missouri, a portion of $21.9 million the U.S. Department of the Interior dedicated to conserving public lands in 16 states. A family near the river used to farm on the 702-acre property, called Slim and Haps Islands, but stopped as flooding increased along the Mississippi River.

More than a hundred protesters marched in downtown Clayton on Sunday afternoon and demanded the release of 22 people who were arrested at the Saint Louis Galleria on Saturday.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

It wasn’t so much of a protest as a vigil on Sunday as demonstrators gathered at the Justice Center in Clayton to wait for the release of the people arrested Saturday at a protest in the Galleria.

By 5 p.m., all 22 of those arrested had been released.

Two men confront a crowd of demonstrators during a protest Friday night in St. Charles. It was the eighth day of protests following the not-guilty verdict of white ex-St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley on first-degree murder charges.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

One week after a judge acquitted former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley of murder in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith, protesters continued their push for change, taking their message Friday to the mostly white city of St. Charles.

Protesters blocked Brentwood Blvd. outside of the Galleria mall on Wednesday night as they chanted “for Anthony Smith and Michael Brown, shut it down, shut it down.”
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 7:45 p.m. with mall closure — The advertised gathering spot Wednesday for people wanting to voice their displeasure with the Jason Stockley verdict was downtown Clayton.

That was a decoy, as protesters converged on the St. Louis Galleria and blocked traffic on busy Brentwood Boulevard in Richmond Heights, about a mile away. Both Clayton and the mall were targeted because of protesters’ strategy to disrupt business as usual in affluent communities.

Sikeston farmer Trey Wilson said he saw substantial damage to his soybean crops this year. On the left is what a healthy soybean plant looks like; on the right is a soybean plant showing signs of dicamba damage.
Trey Wilson

Sikeston, Missouri — In front of several greenhouse scaffolds, Steve Hamra gestured to a metal cart containing trays of seedlings for bell peppers, tomatoes and romaine lettuce. About 150 miles south of St. Louis on a 10-acre site, Hamra is growing produce hydroponically, or in water instead of soil, for about 400 schools, in Missouri and other states.

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