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

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. 

Missouri Botanical Garden researcher Ashley Glenn learning to cook in Bosnia from a homemaker named Dunja.
Ashley Glenn | Missouri Botanical Garden

On a recent Saturday, four middle-aged Bosnian women bustled in a warmly lit kitchen at Fontbonne University. Bags of flour and sugar, metal mixing bowls and trays of flaky pastries filled, called pitas, were spread across an island. The air smelled strongly of bread, butter and cheese.

Ashley Glenn, a botanist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, stood next to the women, providing commentary about the food for an audience of about two dozen people. Glenn has spent the last year and a half interviewing more than 100 Bosnians in St. Louis and in Bosnia about their cuisine and food rituals.

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

Jefferson County is one step closer to attaining the federal clean air standard for sulfur dioxide, a noxious gas that can cause asthma and respiratory illness.

The Missouri Air Conservation Commission on Thursday approved the state's recommendation to the Environmental Protection Agency that the county's sulfur dioxide levels are within the federal limit of 75 parts per billion.

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

Missouri will soon adopt new regulations to clean up the state’s 150 large lakes and reservoirs.

But environmentalists contend the state’s plan won’t be strong enough to address pollution caused by harmful nutrients.

Missouri currently does not set limits on nitrogen and phosphorus. A combination of agricultural runoff, stormwater runoff, sewage treatment plant discharges and other sources can cause an excessive amount of the nutrients to enter lakes, rivers and streams. Nutrient pollution can render bodies of water unsuitable for drinking and recreation, cause fish kills, and drag down oxygen levels to create “dead zones,” similar to the one that exists in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Saint Louis University biologist Gerardo Camilo telling a story live on stage at The Story Collider event at The Ready Room on Oct. 5, 2017.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The night began with a story told by a science journalist who tried to cure her autoimmune disease by swallowing parasitic worms. It finished with the story of a young primate researcher who nearly died after being attacked by two chimpanzees. 

On Oct. 5, St. Louis Public Radio and The Story Collider podcast collaborated for the second time to present five personal science stories live, on stage, at The Ready Room. It was the first time I hosted a show with local comedian Zack Stovall since we joined The Story Collider's team of producers last summer. The theme of the night was "Resilience." Some of these stories showed how resilience is necessary to scientific research. Others showed how they used scientific knowledge to overcome major challenges in their lives.

A concentrated animal feeding operation consisting of black and white dairy cows all in a row, feeding from a trough.
U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has rejected demands from a group of central Missouri residents to impose air quality regulations for all concentrated animal feeding operations, regardless of size.

The state's odor rule for confined animal feeding operations only apply to the largest concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, a DNR official told the residents last week. Class 1A CAFOs in Missouri contain at least 17,500 hogs, 7,000 cows or 700,000 chickens.

A wind turbine.
Provided by Ameren Missouri

In a couple of years, Missouri cities and corporations could be receiving more electricity from wind power as Ameren Missouri ramps up its wind power facilities. 

Tesla installed a 200-kilowatt solar array to power the Hospital del Niño in Puerto Rico.
Tesla

About a month ago, PJ Wilson arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where 3.4 million people were left without power after hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Wilson, the former director of Renew Missouri, noticed immediately that many residents were suffering from depression, after having lost their jobs or not being able to reach loved ones by phone. 

A fire rages out of control in a warehouse after walls collapsed during a five-alarm fire in St. Louis last Wednesday. Nearly 200 St. Louis firefighters battled the warehouse containing numerous paper products and nearly 200,000 candles.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Environmental Protection Agency officials say there is no evidence of asbestos in the debris from an intense fire that occurred in south St. Louis last week. 

Officials from the EPA and the St. Louis City Department of Health presented the findings at a Shaw Neighborhood Association meeting Monday night. The EPA sent 80 samples to a laboratory to be tested for asbestos. The first 21 were sampled on Friday in areas close to the warehouse on Park Avenue and test results indicated that three of them contained asbestos fibers.

That prompted the city department of health to request additional samples that were collected the next day in areas downwind from the site.

An illustration of prescription drugs.
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

President Donald Trump's proposal to cut the National Institutes of Health 2018 budget by more than a fifth could severely hamper the ability to deliver life-saving treatments to patients, according to a report by Washington University researchers.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Cell Chemical Biology, researchers looked at 100 of the most prescribed drugs and drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the last decade. The NIH funded 93 percent of the 100 widely prescribed drugs and 97 percent of drugs approved between 2010 and 2016.

Monsanto's widely-used weed killer Roundup on a shelf in Home Depot.
File photo | Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Monsanto and several growers associations filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the state of California for adding the herbicide ingredient glyphosate to a list of cancer-causing substances. 

California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment announced in July it would add glyphosate to Proposition 65. Known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, the California law requires the state to publish a list of substances known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.

Arianna Soldati,  a postdoctoral candidate in volcanology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, presents a basaltic rock, which she collected from a volcano for her research.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

One night at an airport in Syracuse, New York, Arianna Soldati, a postdoctoral candidate in volcanology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, found herself waiting on a continually delayed flight. To pass the time, she opened her suitcase and fished out a bag of volcanic rocks she had collected on a recent trip. Then, she started showing them to people at her gate. 

"Everyone was really excited. Most people have never seen lava before and they had a ton of questions and the delay went by faster than usual," Soldati said. 

Soldati has always found joy in sharing her research with the public, which is why she created a science outreach program this fall to bring science presentations to rural towns in Missouri.

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