Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Eli Chen

Science Reporter

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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.

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

Updated at 3 p.m. to clarify how much waste would be removed and with additional reaction  — The Environmental Protection Agency has decided on a partial removal of World War II-era radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill, in northwest St. Louis County.

The EPA proposed a remedy that would remove “the majority of the radioactive material” and construct a cover system to “best protect the community of Bridgeton over the long term,” the agency said today in a news release.

Flares at the Bridgeton Landfill are used to burn off smelly underground gases.
File Photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to soon announce its plans to clean up the waste in West Lake Landfill. For people who live near the landfill in north St. Louis County, the decision couldn’t come soon enough, as the waste sits approximately 600 feet from an underground smoldering fire.

The landfill has been on the EPA’s National Priorities List since 1990. Eighteen years later, the EPA under the administration of President George W. Bush recommended capping the landfill. The waste has sat at the site since its former owner, Cotter Corporation, dumped it there in 1973.

EPA officials may decide to remove the waste entirely, remove it in part, or cap the site.

Adolphus Pruitt, St. Louis City NAACP Branch President, shakes hands with Brian Hoelscher, MSD executive director and CEO, at MSD's headquarters in January 2018.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Jan. 26 with more details from MSD's research — The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District announced Thursday that it has made strides in hiring more women and minorities for contract work. 

The NAACP and minority advocacy groups like MOKAN have pushed the sewer utility for several years to make more diverse hires for its contractual engineering and construction work. They stepped up such efforts after a Clean Water Act settlement in 2011 required the MSD to spend $4.7 billion on sewer upgrades over the next two decades. 

Microgrid installed two solar arrays at Busch Stadium.
Microgrid Energy

The 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels President Donald Trump announced this week could hurt Missouri's solar companies.

Prices of imported solar panels already are rising as companies want to buy them before the tariff takes effect, said Steve O'Rourke, vice president of business development at St. Louis-based Microgrid Energy.

The price of solar panels has been in flux since last fall, when the U.S. International Trade Commission found that imports hurt two domestic manufacturers and recommended a tariff to protect them. However, the U.S. solar industry imports 80 percent of its solar products, mainly from China.

Nurse Thomas Pacatte draws blood from Gary Newcomer, a volunteer of Saint Louis University's Zika vaccine trials in 2018.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

In what looks like a typical doctor’s office, Gary Newcomer, 26, waited to have his blood drawn for the last time as a participant in a trial for a Zika virus vaccine.

Newcomer has visited Saint Louis University’s Center for Vaccine Development 16 times since November 2016. But a cut in federal funding is bringing a halt to the trial before a vaccine can be developed.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials navigate the Illinois River where there are jumping silver carp, a type of Asian carp.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

State and federal wildlife officials plan to pull out all the stops this month to eliminate Asian carp from Creve Coeur Lake in St. Louis County. 

The invasive species are relentless bottom feeders that have damaged water quality, disrupted the food chain and driven down native fish populations in many Midwestern waterways. 

An illustration of pills.
Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

White residents in Missouri are dying at a higher rate than they did nearly two decades ago, according to a report from the Missouri Foundation for Health.

The increased death rate largely is occurring in the state's rural counties, especially in the Ozarks and the Bootheel region and substance abuse appears to be a major factor. For example, deaths by drug overdose have increased by nearly 600 percent in many rural counties. Poor mental health also plays a significant role, as suicides among young and middle-aged adults have increased by 30 percent since 1995. 

A rare plant called Dracaena umbraculifera lives in northeastern Madagascar.
Missouri Botanical Garden

DNA technology has helped scientists discover a species of plant in Madagascar that’s long been classified as extinct.

The Missouri Botanical Garden reported Monday in the journal Oryx that researchers found a few populations of the Dracaena umbraculifera. It’s classified as extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, but there are specimens living in botanical gardens around the world. Identifying the plant, however, can be tricky because it can only be truly identified by its flowers. It has not flowered in any botanical garden.

Ivan Baxter, a researcher at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and Liz Haswell, a biology professor at Washington University, started a podcast called Taproot last summer to talk about the challenges of doing research.
Provided by Ivan Baxter and Liz Haswell

Researchers Liz Haswell and Ivan Baxter spend most their time trying to understand how plants function. But the two plant scientists sometimes step away from their microscopes and specimens to have honest conversations with their colleagues about the challenges of doing research. They recorded these dialogues into a podcast called Taproot, to represent how they’re digging for stories beyond what’s in a scientific publication.

For each episode in Taproot’s first season, Haswell, a biologist at Washington University, and Baxter, a researcher at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, would pick a study and have a conversation about one of its authors about the difficulties involved in doing research. The issues ranged from finding work-life balance as a scientist to embracing the fact that a researcher may never achieve total certainty in what they are studying. The content, funded by the American Society of Plant Biologists, can be a bit inside baseball for a general audience, but it’s picking up in popularity among plant researchers.

Granite City resident Jennifer Kostoff and her daughter. Kostoff was addicted to heroin when she was pregnant and was able to give birth to a healthy baby with help from the SSM Wish Center.
Chestnut Health Systems

Several St. Louis health centers will begin working next month to provide long-term residential treatment for expectant mothers in the Metro East who are addicted to opioids.

Many pregnant women who need treatment for substance abuse rely on Medicaid, a federal- and state-funded health insurance program for people who are low-income, disabled or elderly. But women in the Metro East aren't eligible to be treated at facilities in St. Louis that only accept Missouri Medicaid.

Cultures of bacterial strains belonging to researchers at Washington University that can turn toxic compounds into the precursors of biofuels
Washington University in St. Louis

In the near future, gasoline could be replaced by a fuel that uses bacteria instead of fossil fuels.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of California-Berkeley are studying a species of bacteria that could be used to manufacture a renewable biofuel. The U.S. Department of Energy gave scientists $3.9 million to fund the research for three years. 

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

The Environmental Protection Agency has released its proposal for tackling polluted runoff in Missouri's largest lakes.

But environmentalists say the EPA's plan, like the state's plan that was released in October, is not strong enough to address pollution. 

Missouri does not set limits for nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients that can cause fish kills and create dead zones in excessive quantities. A Clean Water Act settlement last year with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment required the EPA to devise a rule to regulate nutrient pollution in Missouri's lakes by Dec. 15, unless the Missouri Department of Natural Resources filed its own proposal by that date. The state failed to submit a plan by the deadline. 

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

A report released Monday finds that two power plants in Arkansas are partly responsible for poor air quality in St. Louis. 

Scientists from California-based Sonoma Technologies Inc. analyzed nitrogen oxide emissions, a component of ozone pollution, detected by air monitors in the St. Louis region in 2011. Their measurements revealed that Entergy's Independence and White Bluffs plants, located about 210 and 300 miles southwest of St. Louis, contributed emissions well above the federal standard for several days that year. The Sierra Club commissioned the study.

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. 

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