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.

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A school bus.
Vipal | Flickr

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources proposes spending the $41 million it received from the Volkswagen settlement last year on replacing school buses and other heavy-duty vehicles. 

The German automaker agreed to spend billions of dollars to settle allegations of cheating emissions standards. Missouri is among the states that received some of those funds to address nitrogen dioxide emissions. Nitrogen dioxide is a component of ozone pollution, which can cause respiratory health issues, such as asthma. 

Heavy-duty vehicles are a major contributor to nitrogen dioxide emissions.

A Triceratops skull at the Saint Louis Science Center.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

On a late morning at the St. Louis Science Center, ecology educator Brian Thomas showed two elementary school students a fossil that looked like a very old, mangled piece of rock. It was a partial skull of a young Triceratops. 

"Inside here is where the brain would sit," Thomas told the boys. "And it's not a very big brain." 

The science center has two juvenile Triceratops skulls, dug up from northeast Montana, that a researcher at Washington University School of Medicine is studying to understand how the species developed in its lifetime.

Black River near Annapolis, Mo.
National Weather Service Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment has accused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of withholding information on mining and other development projects that could damage wetlands. 

The environmental group filed suit against the Corps of Engineers in late March, alleging that the agency denied it access to permits and documents that relate to mining and other types of projects. The suit claims that the Corps of Engineers' St. Louis and Little Rock districts have repeatedly refused to release documents, such as permit applications, using an exemption of the Freedom of Information Act.

Lead blocks produced by the Doe Run Company.
The Doe Run Company

In a settlement announced Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Missouri ordered metal and mining company Doe Run Resources Corporation to clean up lead contamination in more than 4,000 residential properties in St. Francois County.

The work is estimated to cost a total of $111 million. Of that, the Environmental Protection Agency will contribute about $31 million. The company will remove lead contamination in the Big River Mine Tailings Superfund Site, an area added to the EPA's National Priorities List in 1992. It's part of Missouri's "Old Lead Belt," one of the largest lead mining districts in the world.

The Sny Island Levee System in Illinois is one of 10 levee systems that have exceeded their authorized heights, according to a survey conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers' Rock Island District this year.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are supporting northeast Missouri residents' suspicions that overbuilt levees along the Upper Mississippi River have led to increased flooding for vulnerable communities. 

The Corps of Engineers last spring surveyed levee heights in the Rock Island District, which runs from Keokuk, Iowa, to Thebes, Illinois, and discovered that 40 percent of the levees exceeded regulation. The federal agency released a model at the end of January that measured the impact the overbuilt levees have on river flooding. The model, however, requires an experienced engineer to operate, so environmental advocacy group American Rivers hired a consultant to do so this month.

An aerial shot of wildlife officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation removing Asian carp from Creve Coeur Lake in winter 2018.
Missouri Department of Conservation

Federal and Missouri state wildlife officials have successfully used a new technique to remove the majority of Asian carp from Creve Coeur Lake in St. Louis County. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Missouri Department of Conservation and St. Louis County Parks and Recreation deployed a method to extract the invasive species from the lake.

Asian carp has invaded many Midwestern lakes and rivers, outcompeting native fish populations and tainting water quality. Traditional netting methods have not been effective, since the fish jump over the nets. Under the "unified method" developed in China, nets and electric barriers create a grid-like system where fish are herded and then removed.

 Mercy Hospital in St. Louis.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Mercy Health has plans to open 10 primary care offices in the south St. Louis metro area over the next two years. 

That's in addition to the nearly 20 urgent care centers the system plans to open during the same period throughout the St. Louis region in partnership with GoHealth Urgent Care. The locations of the primary care offices have not been determined yet, but they will open in south St. Louis County, northern Jefferson County and in the Columbia and Waterloo areas of Illinois.

Artist Shea Brown and Sunni Hutton from the Dutchtown South Community Corporation hold up a meditation pouf made out of plastic bags. March 2018
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis artists plan to unveil two public art installations in the next couple weeks to draw attention to rampant illegal dumping in the Dutchtown neighborhood. 

Artist Shea Brown is building a "meditation and serenity station" made out of plastic bags that will be located at the corner of Virginia Avenue and Liberty Street. Another artist, Ann Johnson, is building a garden-inspired archway out of plastic barbecue-sauce jugs that will be illuminated by LED lights.

The Dutchtown South Community Corporation commissioned the two projects as a part of its public outreach campaign called "So Fresh, So Clean, So Creative Southside St. Louis" to reduce waste in the neighborhood.

An ancient Egyptian mummy named Pet Menekh is placed in a CT scanner at the Washington University School of Medicine.
Washington University School of Medicine

In a dark room on the third floor of the Saint Louis Art Museum, nearly a dozen grade school boys encircled a tour guide, who was dispensing facts about Egyptian mummies. But instead of crowding around three mummies lying nearby in glass cases, they stood in front of a recently added feature to the exhibit: a touchscreen that displays images of what the mummies look like inside.

Roger Ideker's farm in St. Joseph, Mo. during the 2011 Missouri River flood. Ideker is the lead plaintiff in the suit against the corps.
Ideker Farms

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responsible for extensive property damage caused as a result of recurring floods along the Missouri River. 

A group of 372 farmers, landowners and business owners in several Midwestern states filed suit against the Corps of Engineers in March 2014, alleging that the federal agency's actions contributed to five floods along the Missouri River since 2007. Senior Judge Nancy Firestone ruled on Tuesday that the Corps of Engineers was liable for damages caused by recurring floods.

Tree plantings on a former lead mining site in Fredericktown, Missouri, located about 90 miles south of St. Louis.
Amy Poos | Missouri Department of Natural Resources

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources are restoring a portion of Missouri's Old Lead Belt back into a forest. 

It's the first effort that federal and state officials have made to restore a part of the Madison County Mines Superfund Site, part of the Southeast Missouri Lead District. In the 19th century, lead mining heavily contaminated the area, which was listed on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List in 2003.

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

Environmentalists plan to raise concerns at a public hearing tonight about water-quality issues caused by Ameren Missouri's Rush Island Energy Center in Festus. 

A monarch butterfly feeding on a milkweed plant.
Tom Koerner | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Scientists are concerned that monarch butterflies could be facing a new threat: pesticides that contain dicamba. 

A report released last week from the Center for Biological Diversity showed that monarch butterflies migrate through areas of the southern and Midwestern United States where dicamba is heavily used. The chemical can interrupt the growth of milkweed and other plants that the species feeds on. Monarch populations are critical pollinators of wildflowers and other plants, but the species has declined more than 80 percent in the last two decades

Arnold residents pile sandbags over a manhole to try to prevent sewage from mixing with floodwater. May 2017
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

More people in Missouri are at risk of experiencing damage from heavy rainfall and river flooding, according to a study released Wednesday.

A stormwater drain.
KOMU via Flickr

St. Louis-area residents may see a new fee on their sewer bills at the beginning of 2020. That's because the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District wants to impose a new fee to help fund efforts to resolve flooding and erosion issues in its service area. 

In a proposal MSD submitted to its independent rate commission on Monday, the district estimates the cost of resolving the region's stormwater runoff issues to be $560 million. The plan would charge an average of $2.25 per household per month, or $27 per year. The more surface area a property has that can't absorb water, the higher the fee. According to MSD projections, the new fee would generate $30 million per year for 30 years.

More than a hundred showed up to the St. Louis Army Corps of Engineers' annual meeting in February 2018 to update the public on efforts to remediate legacy nuclear waste along Coldwater Creek.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

When the Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday delivered an update on its ongoing work to clean up radioactive waste along Coldwater Creek, it was to a packed room. More than 100 people attended the meeting; some attendees only recently learned about the radioactive waste after watching the HBO documentary, "Atomic Homefront," which began airing last week.

The film documents the struggle of north St. Louis County residents who live near areas illegally dumped with World War II-era nuclear waste, particularly the West Lake Landfill Superfund site. While many attendees in the room had known about the waste for several years, some were stunned to learn about it from the documentary.

A view of Lake Taneycomo in February 2018.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

On a bright, brisk winter day in Branson, Mo., several dedicated fishermen tried to catch trout in Lake Taneycomo, a fast-moving, ribbon-shaped lake that snakes around the city.

The water appeared clear, but the lake has some ongoing issues, said David Casaletto, executive director of Ozarks Water Watch, a water quality group. For example, heavy rains in the summer have caused low levels of dissolved oxygen, which has hurt the trout population.

Under a recently proposed water quality rule from the Environmental Protection Agency, Lake Taneycomo, Mark Twain Lake and Lake of the Ozarks are among 113 lakes and reservoirs in Missouri that would be defined as “impaired” or too polluted for human use.

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

Over the next five years, Ameren Missouri plans to close the ponds it uses to dump the byproduct of its coal-fired power plants.

The company has 15 ponds among its four power plants. Ameren closed two out of the nine ponds at the Meramec Energy Center in St. Louis County earlier this year. Coal-fired power plants have traditionally used water to handle coal ash, but recent advances in technology are allowing utilities such as Ameren to use dry systems instead.

The West Lake Landfill, seen from St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated March 5 with new public comments deadline  The Environmental Protection Agency has released the full details of its proposal to remove radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill. The agency will make a final decision after a public comment period.

Residents who live near West Lake Landfill gathered at John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton after the EPA announced its remediation plan. (Feb 1, 2018)
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

When the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced its plan to remove much of the radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill, some activists and residents celebrated.

But many residents expressed frustration and disappointment that only some of the waste would be removed before the site is covered. They said they’re still concerned about groundwater contamination, which might not be prevented by a partial removal, and worried that they might not be able to move away if the government doesn’t come up with a buyout plan. Some still don’t trust that the EPA can deliver on its promises.

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