Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Eli Chen

Science Reporter
The St. Louis County Building Commission members (Jeff Aboussie, Barry Glantz and John Finder, right) listen to Sierra Club supporters on August 2015. The model house is covered with the names of 529 area residents who want stricter energy efficiency stan
Veronique LaCapra

A set of construction standards that lower environmental requirements for new residential buildings could soon be approved by St. Louis County officials. 

The county's Building Code Review Committee has approved a draft ordinance on the building codes. The proposed ordinance, which will be sent to the county's Building Commission, dismisses energy efficiency measures from the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) that would require new homes to reduce air infiltration, install more energy efficient lights and add more increased wall and ceiling insulation.

Forestry Commissioner Skip Kincaid points out the insecticide injections given to a tree in north St. Louis.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

On a residential street in the Central West End neighborhood, a worker wearing a hard hat and a safety vest used a chainsaw to cut the branches off of an ash tree. The tree and the ones next to it were marked for removal because the emerald ash borer, an invasive species, has come to St. Louis.

The Asian beetle has decimated ash trees across the country since the early 2000s, particularly in the Midwest and the Northeast. In recent years, the emerald ash borer has spread to 28 counties in Missouri, most recently to Franklin County.

Missouri Department of Conservation's lake sturgeon coordinator Travis Moore holds a tracking device above a tagged lake sturgeon.
Provided by the Missouri Deparment of Conservation

Missouri Department of Conservation officials are stocking the Meramec River with lake sturgeon, a species that is endangered in the state, in hopes of raising their population. 

The lake sturgeon, a fish that can grow up to 8 feet and live for over a century, declined sharply in the 19th century due to over harvesting and river projects that removed its habitat. State wildlife officials began stocking the species in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their tributaries in 1984.

Coldwater Creek turned a milky white over the first weekend of October.
Julie Hartwell via Facebook

Updated Oct. 4 with details on the contamination source — The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has identified a paving company as the source of the white contamination that appeared in Coldwater Creek over the weekend. 

In a statement released Tuesday, the state agency said an accident caused a truck carrying a chemical called Modifier A/NA, an additive used to make concrete, to spill the product into the creek. The St. Peters-based Pavement Solutions was responsible for transporting the chemical.

The concrete additive has low toxicity to humans and aquatic life, according to a Materials Safety Data Sheet for the product.

Mississippi River, dredging, Eads
Rachel Heidenry | 2008 file photo

A $9 billion bill in Congress that could improve waterway navigation and water systems in Missouri is a step closer to being signed into law.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 399-25 to approve the Water Resources Development Act — in a rare show of bipartisan support. The Senate passed its version of the bill earlier last month. 

The Water Resources Development Act, authorized every two years, gives the green light to the Army Corps of Engineers to improve navigation, water quality and work on other water projects.

Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Washington University in St. Louis has been awarded a nearly $24 million grant from the National Science Foundation to open a research center that could develop solutions in medicine and agriculture. 

The Science and Technology Center for Engineering MechanoBiology involves eight faculty members from Wash U. They will be joined by faculty from University of Pennsylvania, Boston University and other institutions.

Provided by St. Louis Area Diaper Bank

As the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank approaches one year in operation this weekend, the organization is running a week-long drive to collect 100,000 diapers. 

According to the National Diaper Bank Network, one out of three families in the United States cannot afford diapers. The cost of diapers can total  about $1,000 a year per child and for some low-income families, buying them can take up to 15 percent of the parents' take-home pay.

Marchelle Vernell-Bettis, a trauma ICU nurse, wears a button during an informational picket for St. Louis University Hospital's nurses union.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Sunday, Sept. 25, 5 p.m. with vote results Nurses at Saint Louis University Hospital have approved a new three-year contract that addresses union members’ concerns over working conditions.  

Their first agreement with SSM Health, which acquired the hospital in 2015, includes a commitment to keeping enough nurses on duty and a requirement that managers give nurses eight hours to rest between shifts.

Monsanto
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Monsanto has acquired a license to engineer crops using the revolutionary gene editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9. 

The tool is considered more effective and simpler to use than the transgenesis method of developing genetically modified organisms. Developing a GMO involves introducing a foreign gene that carries a trait, such as resistance to drought or a particular pest. Testing a GMO seed can take years and complying with regulations that control such products can raise costs of development. 

Missouri Department of Conservation official Mark McLain shows how the BoarBuster, a feral hog trap, can be deployed with his phone.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

The invasive feral hog roams in more than 30 counties in Missouri, decimating farmland and wildlife areas in its path.

This summer, state officials banned feral hog hunting on public lands in their latest effort to eradicate the pest from Missouri. They’re also beginning to use new technology to trap the animals.

Provided by Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

A collaboration between the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and a textile dyes company could soon produce more eco-friendly denim clothing for consumers. 

This combined sewer overflow (archway in channel) discharges sewage and rain water into the upper River Des Peres, on Ferguson Ave. just south of Melrose Ave. in University City.
Veronique LaCapra

St. Louis is among the U.S. cities where millions of gallons of sewage has flowed into rivers and streams, according to a new study.

The St. Louis region saw as much as 200 million gallons of sewage overflow due to the December floods, according to research released today by Climate Central, a science and news organization. It concludes that St. Louis and other cities that have trouble handling heavy rains need to do more to address the problem.

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.

An alligator snapping turtle, one of several wild turtle species that live in Missouri.
File Photo | 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.

Gas extraction wells on the Bridgeton Landfill in summer 2016.
File Photo |Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

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.

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