Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Eli Chen

Science Reporter
Students from Jennings High School came to a bat survey at the Bellefontaine Cemetery on Sept. 12, 2016, to learn how to track bats using scientific equipment.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

The cemetery is an odd place to be at night. But for scientists who study bats, it's an opportunity to observe wildlife in an urban habitat. 

Last week, scientists and volunteers from the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis gathered at the Bellefontaine Cemetery to conduct a bat survey. The study continues the work some researchers started in 2014, when they looked for bats in a different section of the cemetery in a larger effort to catalog biodiversity there.

Boeing and Saab unveil its T-X model, with touch-screen capabilities, two tails and doors that open downwards.
Eli Chen

Boeing unveiled a fighter jet model at the company's St. Louis factory today in its bid to replace the U.S. Air Force's aging pilot trainer aircraft. 

Boeing and Swedish automaker Saab collaborated for nearly three years on the T-X model, which is designed to train Air Force pilots. The company did not disclose the plane's cost, but it is marketed as being more affordable and flexible than older models.

Since the 1960s, the Air Force has trained more than 60,000 pilots on Northrop Grumman's T-38 Talon, which also has been used to train NASA's astronauts. Boeing is competing with Northrop, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.

St. Louis residents, activists and city officials gathered on Sept. 8, 2016, at the Gateway Arch riverfront to express opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Eli Chen

A federal judge on Friday denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. But the U.S. Departments of Justice, the Army and the Interior temporarily halted construction of the project.

 

The Army will not authorize pipeline construction on Corps of Engineers land bordering or under Lake Oahe in South Dakota until it can determine if it needs to reconsider past decisions. The three departments also asked the pipeline company to stop construction on other lands.

 

Meanwhile, some St. Louis officials and activists are banding together to show solidarity with the tribe.

 

The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline is set to be built on a 1,172 mile diagonal from the Bakken/Three Forks formations in North Dakota down to Patoka, Ill., about 75 miles east ofSt. Louis. The pipeline would cross under the Missouri River in two locations. That has people in St. Louis concerned about local water quality.

The emerald ash borer was first found in the St. Louis area last summer.
Missouri Department of Conservation.

This month, St. Louis foresters will start chopping down about 13,000 ash trees on public property to stay ahead of the invasive emerald ash borer, a destructive pest that drains the life out of ash trees.

Nearly one out of five trees on city streets are ash trees. City Forestry Commissioner Skip Kincaid doesn’t deny that some residents may find the change startling, but the damage the emerald ash borer has caused to other cities across the country is no small matter.

“It’s going to be devastating,” he said. “You know, we’re going to see a lot of street trees that die.”

Provided by Henric Krawczynski

A giant balloon will soon provide scientists at Washington University in St. Louis a view of black holes in the Milky Way galaxy.

Researchers will launch the 40 million cubic foot unmanned balloon, carrying an X-Ray telescope named X-Calibur, this month from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Fort Sumner, N.M. The payload will ascend 126,000 feet into the stratosphere, which is about four times the cruising altitude of commercial airplanes.

The Fenton Water Treatment Plant was knocked offline due to historic flooding.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

The Valley Park levee in St. Louis County may have been built too high, according to new findings from a private engineering firm hired by a conservation group.

The report by Pickett, Ray and Silver Inc. commissioned by the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance, concluded that four locations along the levee exceeded the maximum height allowed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is 435 feet above sea level. One spot surpassed the standard by 8 feet.

Provided by the Great Rivers Law Center

A group of Franklin County residents has appealed a county decision to allow a concrete plant to be built near the Shaw Nature Reserve. 

Three years ago, Kirkwood-based concrete company Landvatter Ready Mix applied for a conditional use permit to build its third concrete facility in the state. After the Franklin County Board of Adjustment approved the permit, residents sued county officials, hoping to overturn the decision. Months later, the company withdrew its permit application and asked the county to rezone the land parcel for commercial use. The county's Planning and Zoning Commission granted its request last September.

Niang washes some freshly picked produce before selling it to Saint Louis University.
Kim Oswalt | St. Louis Public Radio

A coalition of food access organizations is surveying city residents to better understand how to encourage more urban agriculture in St. Louis.

The effort could lead to an ordinance that will remove some barriers people experience in growing their own food in the city.

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

A special master has allowed the state to proceed with groundwater testing at wells in the portion of the West Lake Landfill where World War II-era radioactive waste has been detected. The decision Wednesday in a circuit court of St. Louis County comes after landfill owner Republic Services tried to stop the testing from moving forward. The tests were scheduled to begin Aug. 22, but the work was delayed when Republic Services attorney Peter Daniel wrote Assistant Attorney General Thais Folta to inform her the company would not permit the sampling.

An "out of order" sign hangs from the pipes of a water fountain at Patrick Henry Elementary School in St. Louis.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When preliminary tests by St. Louis Public Schools found that dozens of faucets and water fountains contained traces of lead, the district shut them off before the school year began.

District spokesperson Patrick Wallace said that to his knowledge, the schools’ water had not been tested for lead within the past 10 years.

A full survey released Thursday found elevated lead levels in 88 district water fountains and sinks.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Environmental attorneys have petitioned the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to ban commercial trapping of the state's freshwater turtles. 

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Great Rivers Law Center filed the petition Wednesday, arguing that harvesting turtles has led significantly to the decline of many species. In the last five years, more than 17 million freshwater turtles have been exported from the U.S. to Asia to be processed into food and traditional Chinese medicine.

Missouri is one of a few states that doesn't impose a limit on how many turtles anyone with a commercial fishing permit may take. 

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.

Updated Aug. 22 with details from the trial — An Environmental Protection Agency lawsuit alleging that Ameren Missouri violated the Clean Air Act goes to trial today in U.S. District Court.

The EPA filed suit against the utility five years ago. Officials with the federal agency allege that, in 2007 and 2010, Ameren illegally installed boiler equipment at two units of its Rush Island Power Plant in Jefferson County without required permits. Under the Clean Air Act, such modifications are considered new sources of air pollution, which are subject to stricter emissions limits.

A Nissan Leaf getting charged up in a parking lot.
Nissan

Motorists driving Nissan Leafs or Chevy Volts could travel farther on Interstate 70 next year.

Ameren Missouri filed a proposal to the Missouri Public Service Commission this week to build six "charging islands" on the highway. 

The company is trying to meet a need for power stations linked to a growing demand for electric vehicles, now that the technology has become more affordable. Additional stations would allow cars to travel longer distances, said Ameren official Mark Nealon, who is overseeing the project.

At an EPA-hosted community meeting about the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in mid-2016, Bridgeton Councilwoman Linda Eaker asks for a show of hands regarding support for full excavation of radioactive waste.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Residents and local officials continued to press the Environmental Protection Agency for full removal of radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton at a meeting on Monday night. 

By December, the federal agency must decide between four possible remedies for handling the radioactive contamination. The EPA could take no action, cap the waste in place, partial remove it or completely do so.

Engineers at Washington University have found a way to make biofuel from e-coli bacteria.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

People in much of the country are familiar with ethanol, a type of biofuel made from corn that is added to gasoline.

But many may not know that it is also possible to make biofuel from bacteria like e-coli. That could change, now that engineers at Washington University have found a more cost-effective way to make fuel from bacteria.

Gayle Bentley, a doctoral student in the Department of Energy, Environment and Chemical Engineering  at Wash U, has discovered how to change an enzyme in some types of bacteria so that it produces compounds that act like the ones in petroleum. Bentley recently published her findings in the journal Metabolic Engineering.

Eli Chen

Champ Landfill in Maryland Heights will pay $1.6 million in air quality improvements, under the terms of a settlement it reached with the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday. 

Agency officials inspected the landfill in May and detected methane emissions from the surface that exceed the federal limit. Methane makes up 50 percent of landfill gas. 

A worker installs fiberglass insulation.
Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Lab

The federal Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution could provide tremendous financial savings for property owners in Missouri, according to research from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

While the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan does not explicitly require buildings to adopt certain energy efficient standards, it requires states to develop a plan to cut carbon emissions. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy ranks the Show Me State is 44th in the nation for energy efficiency.

Missouri Department of Conservation's wildlife biologist Shelly Colatskie conducting a survey at a gray bat cave on Norman's property.
Provided by Nick Norman

A group of residents in Franklin County want to sue state and local officials for authorizing a gravel mining project that could threaten the gray bat, an endangered species. 

The Citizens for Preservation of the Meramec River on Aug 3., filed a notice to sue the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Franklin County Planning and Zoning Commission and Meramec Aggregates, Inc.  The Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is representing the 25-member group.

Eli Chen

Inside a huge warehouse at Boeing’s headquarters in St. Charles, a table-shaped drone rose from the middle of the floor.

As intern Edwin Mercado-Colon sat at a computer typing commands, the drone began to move around the room and an unmanned vehicle automatically followed.  But Mercado-Colon wasn’t using a controller to direct the drone. Instead, he picked a destination for the drone without telling it how to get there.

“He’s picking a spot in the lab to fly to,” said Mike Abraham, manager of Boeing’s Collaborative Autonomous Systems Laboratory. “That command goes to the vehicle. The vehicle knows where it is because of the motion capture system. It’s determining how to get to the next point, on its own.”

Developing unmanned vehicles that can work together on their own represents the latest in drone technology, a global industry that analysts predict could be worth $127 billion by 2020.

EPA environmental protection agency logo
Wikimedia Commons

As many as 25 homes in Washington, Missouri, about 50 miles from St. Louis, could be affected by groundwater contamination from a Superfund site. 

The site once housed a refrigerator manufacturing plant run by the Sporlan Valve Co., the largest employer in Washington. The facility was demolished in 2011.

Provided by the Sierra Club

A St. Louis pastor heads to Chicago on this week to tell Environmental Protection Agency policymakers that a program under the Obama administration's clean energy plan should consider the needs of low-income communities. 

At the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church in north St. Louis, many people in the congregation struggle to pay their utility bills, the Rev. Rodrick Burton said. Most live in the 27th Ward, which Burton described as an economically depressed area where many folks are on fixed incomes. 

ozone air pollution St. Louis
Missouri Department of Natural Resources

The St. Louis metro area has one of the worst smog levels in the country. In recent years, ozone levels have declined, but the region must  comply with stronger federal air quality standards set last year. 

Under the 2008 standard, St. Charles, St. Louis, Franklin and Jefferson counties had exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's ozone limit at 75 parts per billion. After 2013, ozone levels in the area dropped and state officials say the counties comply with the 2008 standard. However, a new EPA rule last year lowered the standard to 70 parts per billion. State officials are now asking the EPA to indicate that the region meets the old ozone regulations, but not the new. 

Provided by Washington University in St. Louis

The future of clean water may depend on developing technologies that aim to clean dirty water. With that in mind, engineers at Washington University are using nanotechnology, the manipulation of materials on a molecular level, to develop a foam that can remove salt and contaminants from water.

Provided by Bi-State Development Agency

Updated Friday, July 22 at 5:07p.m. with statement from Ameren Missouri — Ameren Missouri and the Sierra Club reached a $2 million settlement Thursday in U.S. District Court over the utility company's alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.

Provided by University of Missouri-Columbia/Julianna Jenkins

According to surveys by scientists and avid bird-watchers, many songbird species are declining in the U.S. Losing the birds that provide a natural soundtrack in our backyards is a critical environmental issue, since they also serve to control insect populations and as pollinators.

Flickr | Paul Downey

The “heat dome” has arrived in Missouri, in which high temperatures and high humidity have teamed up to unleash incredibly uncomfortable hot weather. According to the National Weather Service, the daytime heat index is expected to exceed 105 this week in the St. Louis area. City officials have warned the public how dangerous the heat can be, especially for children, the elderly and those without air conditioning.

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

Samples of radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill Bridgeton placed in contact with high heat did not increase production of a radioactive gas, according to a new study released by the Environmental Protection Agency.

U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner and Lacy Clay on Wednesday continued to press for the Environmental Protection Agency to transfer jurisdiction of the West Lake Superfund site in Bridgeton to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Residents and area activists, dissatisfied with the Environmental Protection Agency's handling of the site, have been waiting for Congress to pass a bill to put the nuclear waste in more capable hands. Despite how easily the bill passed the U.S. Senate, it is at a standstill in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Wagner, R-Ballwin, and Clay, D-University City, sponsored the proposed legislation that would put responsibility for removing the World War II-era waste under the Corps' cleanup program, known as FUSRAP.

Provided by Missouri Department of Conservation

For five years, state officials and researchers have been trying to bring back an endangered beetle species that disappeared in Missouri more than 40 years ago. Now, they're counting the bugs to see if there's enough of them for a sustained population. 

Provided by Baranidharan Raman/Washington University in St. Louis

Imagine a day when law enforcement could rely on a tiny tool to scope out bombs hidden underground in potentially dangerous places.

That day could come soon, if scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have success with tapping the potential of locusts. Relying on locusts' keen sense of smell, researchers are building devices that use the insects' olfactory system to improve homeland security.

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