Eli Chen

Science Reporter
The location of the Sauget Area 1 Superfund site.
MAPBOX, OPENSTREETMAP

Four chemical companies could have to pay $14.8 million to clean up a federal Superfund site in Sauget.

The settlement, which needs court approval, would address groundwater contamination, cap some of the waste and install a well monitoring system. 

Industrial waste has been dumped in six sites within the Sauget Area 1 Superfund from the 1930s until the 1980s. The Environmental Protection Agency has been investigating the site since the early 1980s.

Mayor Francis Slay signs the benchmarking ordinance in Feb. 2017 that will require buildings that are at least 50,000 square feet to track and share their energy use.
Photo provided by Office of Mayor Francis Slay

A new ordinance requires owners of St. Louis buildings of at least 50,000 square feet to track their energy use. The practice, called benchmarking, is expected to save local residents and businesses nearly $8 million annually in energy costs by 2025.

It could also address the city's contribution to climate change, removing greenhouse gas pollution that's equal to what 15,000 cars would emit. 

"Seventy seven percent of our [carbon] emissions are coming from buildings," said Catherine Werner, the city's sustainability director. "So why not target those buildings to reduce those emissions?"

The Sierra Club's Andy Knott speaks at a rally in 2013 in front of a 15-foot tall inflatable inhaler in Keiner Plaza
File Photo | Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio & The Beacon

Story updated Feb. 17 with comment from Ameren Missouri — A federal judge has approved the Sierra Club's request to intervene in a Clean Air Act lawsuit between Ameren Missouri and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Last month, Chief Judge Rodney Sippel ruled in U.S. District Court that Ameren violated the Clean Air Act when it installed boiler equipment at the Rush Island Power Plant in Festus in the late 2000s without acquiring special permits. The new equipment caused the plant to emit more sulfur dioxide emissions, which at high levels can cause asthma and exacerbate respiratory conditions.

Before Sippel held the first meeting Thursday to determine how Ameren should reduce air pollution, the Sierra Club's lawyers filed a motion to intervene, out of concern that the Trump administration could put the case in jeopardy.

The International Institute of St. Louis building.
File photo | Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio

A federal appeals panel's ruling last week lifted a travel ban for residents of seven predominantly Muslim countries, but it didn't change one crucial aspect of President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration: a 50,000 cap on refugees allowed to enter the United States.

That's is a significant drop, considering that the Obama administration raised the cap from 85,000 to 110,000 for the 2017 federal fiscal year, which extends from last October to this September. As a result, local organizations that resettle refugees, such as the International Institute of St. Louis, are finding themselves in a difficult position, having originally planned for a larger intake of people.

Soumya Chatterjee, a scientist at Saint Louis University, peers into a microscope in his laboratory, where he studies pathogens, such as tuberculosis.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

President Donald Trump's executive order last month reduced the cap of refugees allowed into the United States from 110,000 to 50,000. That means that fewer refugees will be resettled into areas like St. Louis.

But the cap also is curtailing disease research across the country. To understand diseases that are widespread in poor, war-torn countries, scientists study refugees from those nations that are infected with those diseases.

Asian elephants Sri and Jade in their enclosure at the Saint Louis Zoo in 2015.
Robin Winkelman | Saint Louis Zoo

On a normal day at the Saint Louis Zoo, Jade, a 9-year-old Asian elephant, might sleep, eat and play with her roommate Sri. But lately, her enclosure has gotten a little noisier, with sounds of elephants and other animals at the zoo.

 

The Zoo is recording sounds from some of its animals and playing the clips to them. The sounds help zoo employees see how the animals might normally act in the wild, zookeeper Liz Irwin said. In natural settings, the animals would be exposed to much more noise, whether it’s from the same species or different ones that would live close by.

The rusty patched bumble bee pollinates a flower.
Christy Stewart | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

An executive order from the Trump administration has frozen the process that, for the first time, would have given a bee species federal protection. 

The rusty-patched bumblebee would have been officially listed under the Endangered Species Act today. But, according to a notice from the Office of the Federal Register, the temporary freeze has delayed the effective date until March 21.

The St. Louis County Building Commission members (Jeff Aboussie, Barry Glantz and John Finder, right) listen to Sierra Club supporters on August 2015. The model house is covered with the names of 529 area residents who want stricter energy efficiency stan
Veronique LaCapra

The St. Louis County Building Commission unanimously approved a set of requirements for constructing homes.

But builders, environmental activists, policy experts and residents disagree on whether the new standards best serve the public interest. 

Paula Croxson, Wyatt Cenac and Ira Flatow share science-themed stories at a live Story Collider show.
Provided / The Story Collider

The St. Louis Storytelling Festival and St. Louis Public Radio are teaming up to bring The Story Collider to town. The Story Collider, a science-themed, live, storytelling podcast, will feature a show in St. Louis on Tuesday, May 2.

UMSL neuroscience major Katrina Lynn injects a gel into a brainwave-reading cap worn by subject Kohei Kikuchi in January 2017.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

In the late 1990s, before Sandra Langeslag began attending college, she was dumped. Then a few months later, she fell in love again.

“I was very curious. I had these two experiences that were so opposite,” she said. “Why did I feel the way that I feel?"

She was about to begin her studies as a psychology major. Eventually, her interest in the subject of love led her to search for papers to explain the connection between the brain and the experience of falling in love. As it turns out, there weren’t many.

Sina Nassiri and Mehrdad Alvandipour are Iranian students at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

In August 2015, Mehrdad Alvandipour arrived in the United States from Iran to pursue graduate degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

“Basically, I love science,” he said. “That’s the reason I traveled here, to study at a good university and improve myself.”

Alvandipour hoped that studying at SIUE would put him on track to become a professor at an American university. But President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration has him, and other international research students in the St. Louis region, worried about the future.

Fields of sorghum at the University of Arizona's Maricopa Agricultural Center.
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

A $6.1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will fund the Danforth Plant Science Center's research on sorghum, a staple food crop in sub-Saharan Africa. 

In several Asian and African countries, grain sorghum is essential to a person's diet. Given worldwide concerns over feeding a growing human population during a time of rising global temperatures, scientists have started paying attention to crops such as sorghum, that are highly resilient to drought and extreme heat.

An image of the Rush Island Power Plant in an article about its use of the Powder River Basin coal.
Rush Island Energy Center, Ameren Corp.

A U.S. district court judge has ruled that Ameren Missouri violated the Clean Air Act when it made upgrades to its Rush Island Power Plant in Festus in the late 2000's. 

In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit against Ameren, alleging that the utility illegally installed boiler equipment that raised emissions of sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas that can cause asthma and worsen respiratory conditions. On Monday, Judge Rodney Sippel ruled in favor of the EPA, and wrote that Ameren should have applied for special permits and installed pollution control equipment when plant made the upgrades.

A forest fire ignited by scientists at Camp Whispering Pines, Louisiana.
C.E. Timothy Paine

Before the end of March, scientists from Washington University in St. Louis plan to burn parts of an Ozark forest about 30 miles outside of St. Louis. 

Research has shown that repeated burning of forests can help increase the variety of plants that live in a forest. That's particularly the case for plants that live under the forest canopy, said Jonathan Myers, a Wash U biology professor and a member of the Tyson Research Center in Eureka. Having more kinds of  wildflowers can attract native insects that pollinate plants that animals eat.

Corn stalks sit in a new greenhouse structure, which features 160,000 feet of glass at Monsanto on Oct. 28, 2016.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Monsanto has reached a non-exclusive licensing deal with a local company to use a tool that could help engineer new, high-yielding seeds. 

The GenoMAGIC technology was developed by NRGene, an Israeli startup that opened its U.S. headquarters in St. Louis last spring. Scientists use the tool to analyze genes in plants. Monsanto wants to use it to find new combinations of genes that could produce bigger harvests for farmers.

The rusty patched bumble bee pollinates a flower.
Christy Stewart | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For the first time, federal wildlife authorities this week have sought protection for a bee species under the Endangered Species Act.

The rusty patched bumblebee was once easy to find in the Midwest and eastern United States. Since the 1990s, its numbers have dropped by 87 percent, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Like many wild native bee species in the country, the bee has declined due to pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change, which has affected flowers it depends on.

Provided by the Metropolitan Sewer District of St. Louis

The first thing to notice about Clarice Hutchens’ front yard is that it isn’t a nicely manicured green lawn. Her house sits atop a steep hill and as you come up her driveway, you see piles of rocks, shrubs and trees that blend in well with the woods that surround her property.

Hutchens planted this rain garden, a garden built to absorb rainwater, shortly after she and her husband moved into their Ballwin home in 2004.

(via Flickr/pasa47)

Officials at Tower Grove Park want to know how they can make the park more enjoyable and accessible to area residents. 

The 148-year-old park, which has long focused on fulfilling the legacy of philanthropist Henry Shaw, has hired Virginia-based landscape architecture firm Rhodeside & Harwell to lead the development of a master plan.

The long-term strategy likely will consider historic preservation, environmental conservation and accessibility for those with disabilities. However, park officials would like to hear from the public first to determine the direction it should take.

Ray Meibaum | Saint Louis Zoo

Scientists are urging an international organization to reclassify the cheetah as an endangered species, given the animal's falling numbers. About 7,100 cheetahs exist in the world, mostly in Africa. But that is less than 10 percent of the animal's historic population. 

In the journal Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, conservation experts reported that cheetahs are at greater risk of extinction than previously thought and are calling for increased protection of the species. The authors demand that the International Union for Conservation of Nature upgrade the cheetah's status from "vulnerable" to "endangered." It has been listed as vulnerable for three decades.

Missouri Department of Conservation

Instead of kicking that Christmas tree to the curb after the holiday, state wildlife officials want St. Louis area residents to donate their used trees to build fish habitats. 

The Missouri Department of Conservation has been submerging used trees in park lakes for 30 years.

"Over the years, that's really helped our fish population and fishing," said Kevin Meneau, a state fisheries management biologist. Anglers, he said, have noticed that fishing is better near the sunken trees.   

Residents of Pacific looked out at their flooded-out town in early January.
Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio

Walter Wolfner was not prepared for the impact that last year's heavy rains would have on his business, the Riverside Golf Club in Fenton. 

"The velocity of the water was so great that it picked up sand from the Meramec River and deposited it on the golf course," Wolfner said "I mean, we'd never seen things like that before." 

While he managed to clear off all the debris from the golf course, which is adjacent to the river, it took three months to rebuild the clubhouse, which had to be completely gutted and rewired. 

The state of Missouri estimated that more than 7,000 structures were damaged by last winter's heavy rains. Like Wolfner, cities and many residents along the Meramec, Missouri and Mississippi rivers have been trying to recover and rebuild. 

A dog eats its meal from a bowl.
Seth McCann

Pet owners should take caution when purchasing canned food for their animals, a study from the University of Missouri-Columbia warns. 

Most canned foods are lined with a resin that contains BPA, or Bisphenol-A, an industrial chemical that can seep into the food contents. Research in recent years has suggested it could interfere with brain development, particularly for infants and children. However, there are few studies on pets' exposure to BPA.

Scientists at Mizzou led an experiment where they fed canned food to two groups of dogs that normally eat dry food from a bag. One group was fed canned food advertised as being BPA-free and another group received canned food without that label. Blood and fecal samples revealed that after two weeks, BPA concentrations rose threefold for both groups.

The cliffs of the Tettegouche State Park in Minnesota are made of volcanic rocks that were formed by the Midcontinent Rift.
Wikimedia Commons | Smokemob

About five years ago, Doug Wiens, a seismologist from Washington University in St. Louis, went knocking on the doors of farmers in Minnesota and Wisconsin. He asked them if they would let him and his team of geologists place seismometers, devices that measure the earth’s movements, on their land.

The farmers were a little suspicious.

“‘Why are you doing this here? Are you exploring for oil? Nobody’s done anything like this before,’” Wiens recalled them asking. “And so, we would show them this gravity map and we’d say, ‘Well, there’s this really unusual feature here and we want to study that.’”

Sylvester Brown and Tamara plant sweet potato seeds in front of Union Avenue Christian Church in June.
Kim Oswalt | St. Louis Public Radio

Encouraging more residents to grow fruits and vegetables in St. Louis could depend on making it easier for residents to acquire vacant lots, according to a new survey. 

The St. Louis Food Policy Coalition, consisting of environmentalists, policy experts and community leaders, collected 854 responses that came from nearly every neighborhood in the city. Residents were asked about their interest and participation in urban agriculture and the challenges they faced in doing so.

A dead zone with sediment from the Mississippi River carries fertilizer to the Gulf of Mexico.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

This story was updated to clarify how the EPA would proceed. 

The Environmental Protection Agency will  propose regulations on nutrient pollution by mid-December 2017 to settle a lawsuit filed by an environmental group in U.S. District Court. 

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment filed a lawsuit against the EPA in February for not adequately addressing the issue of nutrient pollution through the Clean Water Act. The EPA has agreed to propose rules by next year, unless the agency approves criteria submitted by the state before the deadline. 

Nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients enter waterways through fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plant discharges. An overabundance of such nutrients have caused fish kills, harmful algal blooms and dead zones along the Mississippi River.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto on July 14, 2015.
NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Data from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft suggest that a syrupy ocean filled with ammonia could dwell beneath Pluto's icy shell. 

There is no direct evidence for an ocean on Pluto, but scientists argue it's very likely, given that a subsurface ocean would explain the planet's particular rotation and tectonics. In a recent paper published in the journal Nature, researchers mused that an ocean at extremely low temperatures could be maintained if it contained ammonia. Ammonia has also been detected by the New Horizons probe on two of Pluto's moons. 

"It expands our ideas on what oceans can be," said Bill McKinnon, a Washington University professor and co-principal investigator of the New Horizons Mission. "We'll probably find, ultimately in our exploration, that things are even stranger than we think."

Missouri Department of Natural Resources

The Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club plans to put pressure on state lawmakers to make sure St. Louis and Kansas City are better represented on the Missouri Air Conservation Commission. 

The commissioners are responsible for enforcing the Clean Air Act in Missouri. Members are appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate. There are currently five commissioners and two vacant seats, which have been empty for some time. 

Environmental activists say that the current commissioners have been ineffective at addressing air quality in Missouri's metro areas. The St. Louis area doesn't meet federal air quality standards for ozone and Jackson County, which includes Kansas City, does not meet the federal air quality standards for sulfur dioxide. Both pollutants at elevated levels can pose a risk to children, the elderly and those with respiratory issues.

Provided by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Engineering researchers at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville are helping the Illinois Department of Transportation develop strategies for managing stormwater runoff on highways.

Highways and roads interrupt the natural flow of water during rains and especially heavy precipitation could cause much of the runoff to overload sewers. Runoff also can taint the water quality of the rivers and streams that it enters.

Asha Paudel

Donald Trump's victory in the presidential election has put many environmentalists and scientists on edge about U.S. commitments to fight climate change, since the president-elect has previously called climate change a "hoax" and vowed to "cancel" the Paris climate agreement.

Among the nervous scientists is Missouri Botanical Garden ethnobotanist Jan Salick, who has studied the effects of climate change on indigenous peoples since the early 2000s. Earlier this month, Salick attended the United Nations annual climate change meeting in Marrakech, Morocco. 

She spoke to St. Louis Public Radio's Eli Chen about her research and the challenges scientists face in the current political climate. Here is the conversation:

A dead zone with sediment from the Mississippi River carries fertilizer to the Gulf of Mexico.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Environmental advocates are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to manage nutrient pollution from states that border the Mississippi River. 

The Mississippi River Collaborative, a group of environmental policy experts, recently released a new report that describes how the 10 states along the river are not making progress in reducing the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus that eventually make its way down to the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone. 

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