Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Eli Chen

Science Reporter

Eli Chen is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes to St. Louis after covering the eroding Delaware coast, bat-friendly wind turbine technology, mouse love songs and various science stories for Delaware Public Media/WDDE-FM. Before that, she corralled robots and citizen scientists for the World Science Festival in New York City and spent a brief stint booking guests for Science Friday’s live events in 2013. Eli grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where a mixture of teen angst, a love for Ray Bradbury novels and the growing awareness about climate change propelled her to become the science storyteller she is today. When not working, Eli enjoys a solid bike ride, collects classic disco, watches standup comedy and is often found cuddling other people’s dogs. She has a bachelor’s in environmental sustainability and creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has a master’s degree in journalism, with a focus on science reporting, from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

Ways to Connect

U.S. Geological Survey hydrologists Bob Holmes (right) and Rick Huizinga (left) perform an experiment on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers barge at St. Louis on Aug. 4, 1993. Aug. 4, 1993.
Photo provided by Bob Holmes

Nearly every day in the summer of 1993, U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Bob Holmes braved the high, tumultuous waters of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers to take measurements for river forecasts. Holmes will never forget how, in Cape Girardeau, he had to rescue electronic instruments used for calculating flow measurements.

Holmes and his crew needed to reach a shelter house built above the Mississippi River, which required climbing over a floodwall and wading through 3 feet water across the top of a catwalk. As they worked, Cape Girardeau firefighters watched them in case they needed to be rescued.

A field of rye
Stephen Ausmus | U.S. Department of Agriculture

Farmers and ranchers in Missouri could help cut the state’s contribution to climate change by using practices that store carbon from the atmosphere in the soil, according to a climate science report released this month.

In Missouri, many farmers use no-till or reduced-till practices, which means not using mechanical equipment to overturn the soil. They do this to improve soil health and prevent erosion, but research also shows that no-till farming can store carbon in the soil. Missouri could cut carbon dioxide emissions further if farmers adopted more practices that not only enhances soil quality, but also promotes carbon sequestration, concludes the report from Climate Central, a nonprofit climate science group.

An active coal-ash pond at the Meramec Energy Center in St. Louis County in February 2018.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency has changed its regulations to give states more authority over how utilities should dispose and monitor pollution from toxic waste generated by coal-fired power plants. Environmental advocates in Missouri and Illinois warn that the newly revised rule will not do enough to protect water quality and human health.

The amendments, approved Tuesday by acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, lowered standards for several chemicals, such as lead, that are found in coal-ash waste. It also extends the deadline for utilities to close its coal-ash ponds and allows state officials to oversee and stop groundwater monitoring at coal-ash waste sites.

The Bridgeton Landfill, pictured here, sits adjacent to the West Lake Landfill.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The state of Missouri reached a settlement Friday with the owners of the Bridgeton landfill over how they’ve handled an underground smoldering fire.

Former Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed suit against the companies in 2013, alleging that the fire under the Bridgeton landfill was harming local residents. The fire is located about 600 feet from World War II-era radioactive waste under the nearby West Lake Landfill.

Under the terms of an agreement approved by St. Louis County Circuit Judge Michael Jamison, Bridgeton Landfill LLC, Allied Services LLC and waste-management company Republic Services must put $12.5 million in a “community project fund” to compensate residents affected by the landfill. The owners agreed to also pay $3.5 million in penalties and damages to the state.

Garbage scattered all over a vacant yard in St. Louis' Dutchtown neighborhood.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Mattresses, ripped up furniture, piles of construction debris and scattered auto parts. In some working-class St. Louis neighborhoods, they’re often seen strewn across alleys and the backyards of vacant buildings.

Illegal garbage dumping has been a problem for decades in the Dutchtown and Walnut Park East neighborhoods. Recently, residents and community organizers have been trying to raise awareness of the issue through community workshops and events. Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office also launched the Clean Up St. Louis initiative this year to clean the most littered parts of the city and increase surveillance of illegal dumping.

Plant scientist Thomas Brutnell
Brutnell Lab

This story was updated at 3:10 p.m. — The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center has dismissed one of its researchers on suspicion of sexual misconduct.

The Danforth Center “has ended its relationship” with Thomas Brutnell, according to a statement released today from the Danforth Center’s President Jim Carrington. Brutnell's biography was also removed from the center’s website.

An investigation into Brutnell’s behavior began in May “upon receiving a complaint of inappropriate conduct and comments of a sexual nature” from Brutnell. Danforth officials then placed him on leave. The statement does not elaborate on the allegations against Brutnell.

An active coal-ash pond at the Meramec Energy Center in St. Louis County in February 2018.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Just before former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned, he signed a bill to regulate coal-ash waste, a toxic byproduct of coal-fired power plants.

Coal ash, also known as coal combustion residuals, contains a number of heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, that are known to cause cancer. While some of the waste does become recycled, Ameren Missouri and other utilities dispose coal ash into landfills and ponds.

Ameren's Callaway nuclear power plant produces about 19 percent of the electricity the company generates in Missouri. It is the only nuclear energy facility in the state.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Ameren Missouri has proposed expanding its energy-efficiency programs to ease the company’s impact on the environment.

In a proposal to the Missouri Public Service Commission on Tuesday, the utility sought approval to invest $550 million in 26 programs that would help customers save energy.

The programs would help people recycle old, inefficient appliances; educate those in low-income communities on how to lower energy use; and promote smart thermostats to reduce electricity costs during the high energy consumption that happens in the summer.

A map that indicates the location of the Old American Zinc Plant Superfund site in Fairmont City, Ill.
Mapbox, OpenStreetMap

The Environmental Protection Agency plans this month to start removing toxic waste from 50 residential yards near a Metro East Superfund site.

The Old American Zinc Plant, which discontinued operations in 1967, contaminated hundreds of properties with high levels of lead, arsenic, zinc and other heavy metals that are known to cause cancer and a variety of diseases. The site is located in Fairmont City, next to Cahokia Mounds.

A food computer device developed by St. Louis startup company MARSfarm.
MARSfarm

When human exploration on Mars becomes possible, St. Louis startup MARSfarm aspires to grow crops there.

But because it will be years before humans will be able to fly to Mars, the company is focused on building technologies that help feed people on Earth. This year, the startup has developed its “$300 food computer,” a foil box that measures two feet on each side that contains plants, lights, sensors and single-board computers known as Raspberry Pi.

A wind turbine.
Provided by Ameren Missouri

Ameren Missouri on Monday announced plans to build a wind farm in northeast Missouri that could provide electricity to 120,000 homes. 

The utility has contracted renewable energy company Terra-Gen LLC to construct 175 wind turbines on multiple properties in Adair and Schuyler counties. The wind farm would help Ameren Missouri reach its goal to cut its 2005 carbon emissions levels by 80 percent by 2050.

The utility also must comply with the state's renewable energy standard, which requires state utilities to generate 15 percent of their portfolios from renewable sources by 2021. Ameren Missouri currently generates 5 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

The BacterioScan 216DX system, a test for urinary tract infections.
BacterioScan, Inc.

A St. Louis biotech startup has secured approval from the Food and Drug Administration to sell a device that helps doctors quickly diagnose urinary tract infections. 

The device, called the BacterioScan 216DX, transmits a laser through urine samples to count bacteria. If the instrument detects that bacteria are growing, that signals that a patient has an infection. The BacterioScan can reduce the time it takes to make a UTI diagnosis from two days to just three hours. 

A forest in Gray Summit, Missouri.
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

A group of Franklin County residents have halted plans to build a concrete plant near the Shaw Nature Reserve. 

Concerned residents appealed a 2016 Circuit Court decision that would have allowed Landvatter Ready Mix to build its plant at a proposed site in Gray Summit. The Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri ruled Tuesday that the Franklin County Planning and Zoning Commission should have given residents a chance to comment on the project.

Gerry Rohde tribute: Staff and listeners share memories

May 11, 2018
Gerry Rohde
Erin Gerrity | Washington University

Updated May 11 with St. Louis on the Air conversation in remembrance of Rohde. Orginial story published May 9.

Gerry Rohde’s voice has been familiar to St. Louis Public Radio listeners for more than 30 years. He died this week of an unknown cause.

Geralf  “Gerry” Rohde was born in Bremen, Germany, in 1962. He grew up with his older sister, Geena Eaton, who shared his love for country music, especially Waylon Jennings. According to Eaton, Rohde loved the English language and spent a year in St. Louis as an exchange student in 1978 at Bayless High School.

Jefferson College chemistry professor Wesley Whitfield plays the drums at a TEDx event the school organized in April 2018.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Since Wesley Whitfield was in high school, he’s loved chemistry. It’s why he became a chemistry professor at Jefferson College in Hillsboro.

But he also has a deep passion for music. Whitfield has been playing drums as a hobby for more than 20 years. Recently, he was able to combine his passion for chemistry and drumming in an April performance at Jefferson College’s TEDx event, “The Art of Science and the Science of Art.”

He came up with the idea while he was driving and listening to Holst’s “The Planets” on his radio.

The Missouri Botanical Garden's Stephen and Peter Sachs museum.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Visitors at the Missouri Botanical Garden are likely familiar with a historic building on the eastern portion of the grounds, where an obelisk stands outside with the words “In honour of American science.”

When philanthropist Henry Shaw founded the garden in 1859, the building served as its first scientific research facility. It contained a library and an herbarium that housed 62,000 specimens. Today, the garden’s herbarium has more than 7 million specimens, one of the largest botanical collections in the world.

Students with the Throwing and Growing Foundation take a tour of Good Life Growing in the Vandeventer neighborhood.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Lonza Patrick has lived in the Walnut Park East neighborhood for more than 50 years. He’s seen the area take repeated turns for the worse, as nearby properties became vacant and neglected.

“Oh man, have I had experiences,” Patrick said.

Patrick wants to see the neighborhood improve and it might, with the unrolling of a new initiative to demolish vacant properties to build green spaces. It’s headed by the Green City Coalition, which consists of the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Missouri Botanical Garden and several other St. Louis-based nonprofits.

The Missouri Sierra Club and its supporters gathered in front of Ameren Missouri's headquarters in St. Louis in April 2018 to protest against proposed regulations that could weaken oversight of coal ash waste.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

As environmentalists voiced concerns in Washington about possible changes to the Environmental Protection Agency's rules on disposing coal ash waste, some in Missouri chose to express their opposition by staging a protest at a major utility corporation's doorstep. 

The Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club gathered a small band of supporters Tuesday at Ameren Missouri's headquarters in St. Louis. They held large signs that showed images of Ameren's four power plants in Missouri and listed details about the toxic heavy metals that coal ash contains, such as arsenic.

Ameren Missouri announced recently that it plans to close all of its coal ash ponds by 2022. However, activists want the regulators to address the contamination the ponds have already caused and are unhappy that Ameren has chosen to close its ponds by leaving them in place.

Writer Michaella Thornton telling a story at The Ready Room in St. Louis for The Story Collider's live taping in March 2018.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s a fact that as humans, we have to deal with the curveballs life throws at us. For example, Emma Young, a Ph.D biology student at University of Missouri-St. Louis, had imagined a career full of adventures in remote places of the world. But she discovered along the way that fieldwork is lonely, frustrating and sometimes prone to moments of panic involving unknown species of spiders.

As for Michaella Thornton, a writer and English instructor at St. Louis Community College, all she wanted was a child with her husband. But it took longer than she imagined to get pregnant, which led to deep feelings of shame and discouragement from her father as she considered in vitro fertilization. 

Merav Gleit, Monsanto's bee health platform lead, with the company's backyard bee hives in summer 2016.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Monsanto and St. Louis-based biotech company RNAgri are collaborating to develop a technology that will help farmers and beekeepers ward off pests. 

The technology uses a naturally occurring process called RNA interference. DNA contains genetic information that RNA transports throughout a cell to allow the cell to produce proteins. The honeybee, for example, produces some types of proteins that attract varroa mites, a parasite that scientists believe to be a cause of colony collapse disorder. RNA interference could stop those proteins from being produced and prevent varroa mites from harming bees. 

Pages