Véronique LaCapra

Science Reporter

Science reporter Véronique LaCapra first caught the radio bug writing commentaries for NPR affiliate WAMU in Washington, D.C. After producing her first audio documentaries at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies in N.C., she was hooked! She has done ecological research in the Brazilian Pantanal; regulated pesticides for the Environmental Protection Agency in Arlington, Va.; been a freelance writer and volunteer in South Africa; and contributed radio features to the Voice of America in Washington, D.C. She earned a Ph.D. in ecosystem ecology from the University of California in Santa Barbara, and a B.A. in environmental policy and biology from Cornell. LaCapra grew up in Cambridge, Mass., and in her mother’s home town of Auxerre, France.

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Legacy nuclear waste at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton was thought to be contained behind this fence, but a new study has detected radiation in trees offsite.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:20 p.m., Sept. 3 with additional comments — Radiation from the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton has spread to neighboring properties. That's according to reports released on Thursday by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. The reports also suggest the underground fire at the neighboring Bridgeton Landfill is moving in the direction of the radioactive waste.

Landfill owner Republic Services maintains that the situation is under control and that the subsurface chemical reaction is headed south, away from the known area of nuclear contamination.

Wastewater from Ameren's coal-fired power plant in Franklin County discharges into the Missouri River.
Labadie Environmental Organization

The Sierra Club says Ameren's Labadie power plant in Franklin County does not meet state and federal water quality standards and wants it brought into compliance.

On Friday, the environmental group filed an appeal with the state, alleging the plant’s operating permit does not do enough to protect wildlife or groundwater.

Ameren's Callaway nuclear power plant produces about 19 percent of the electricity the company generates in Missouri. It is the only nuclear energy facility in the state.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Starting this week, Ameren will have a new way to store radioactive waste at its Callaway nuclear power plant near Fulton.

It’s called dry cask storage.

An excavator with an eight-foot-long claw takes down chunks of the Wilco Building at the Carter Carburetor site on Monday.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The contaminated buildings of the old Carter Carburetor plant on North Grand Boulevard are finally coming down.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing the clean-up, which started in April 2014 with the removal of asbestos from the large CBI building. Earlier this year, contractors used dry ice to blast away indoor lead paint.

On Monday, demolition of the two-story Wilco building got underway. The CBI building will follow, with all above-ground work expected to be completed by next April.

Coldwater Creek Facebook group co-administrator Jenell Wright (white jacket) takes notes during a meeting of the Coldwater Creek oversight committee on Thursday.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

More than a hundred people packed into a room at the Hazelwood Civic Center last night to hear about radioactive contamination outside homes near Coldwater Creek.

St. Cin Park in Hazelwood on Wednesday. The park is staying open during the clean-up, but the Corps is monitoring the air and water for contamination.
Mike Petersen | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has confirmed that it has found radioactive contamination at residential properties along Coldwater Creek in north St. Louis County.

Mike Petersen, the chief of public affairs for the Corps' St. Louis District, said as of right now, "low-dose" contamination had been found in the soil around "a handful" of homes on Palm Drive in Hazelwood, immediately adjacent to the creek. He was not able to specify the exact number of properties affected.

This graph from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' letter to Republic Services shows gradually rising temperatures in the neck of the Bridgeton Landfill.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Missouri environmental officials are ordering the owner of a landfill in Bridgeton do more to prevent a smoldering subsurface fire there from spreading. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources wants to keep the underground reaction from coming into contact with radioactive waste stored nearby.

But Republic Services, the owner, insists the situation at the Bridgeton Landfill is under control.

The St. Louis County Building Commission (Jeff Aboussie, Barry Glantz and John Finder, right) listens to Sierra Club supporters on Wednesday. The model house is covered with the names of 529 area residents who want stricter energy efficiency standards.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Sierra Club is raising the alarm that new residential building codes under review by St. Louis County would reduce home energy efficiency below existing standards.

But the Home Builders Association of St. Louis and Eastern Missouri (HBA) believes the changes are needed.

Before it was banned in 1978, lead paint was commonly used in homes. In St. Louis City, which is dominated by older housing stock, lead contamination is still prevalent.
Abby Lanes | Flickr

Inspectors from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are in St. Louis for the next few months, making sure that contractors are following federal lead paint laws. Businesses with employees that do renovation, repair or painting work must ensure they are federally trained and certified. If they're not, companies could be fined up to $37,500 a day for each violation.

Kimon Chapman conducts an experiment in a chemistry class at Harris-Stowe's Academy for Science & Mathematics this summer.
Bob Morrison | Harris-Stowe State University

Some incoming freshmen at Harris-Stowe State University are getting their first taste of college life — and a crash course in math and science.

Every summer, the Academy for Science & Mathematics provides up to 25 students with free room and board and a $1000 stipend.

Since this map was created by the EPA, new areas of radioactive waste have been found in the north quarry.
Debbie Kring | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Missouri's congressional delegation has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy asking the DOE to transfer responsibility for the cleanup at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It is unclear whether the DOE has the authority to order such a transfer, or whether doing so would require Congressional approval.

According to the new study, a woman's weight before her first pregnancy may have long-term effects.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases | National Institutes of Health

Women who are an unhealthy weight during their first pregnancy might have a false sense of security if their babies are born with no complications. But a new study out of Saint Louis University suggests complications can still arise when the women get pregnant for a second time — even if, by then, they have reached a healthy weight.

This diagram describes how the new wireless device functions. Source: Jeong JW, McCall JG, et al. Wireless optofluidic systems for programmable in vivo pharmacology and optogenetics. Cell, published online July 16, 2015.
Washington University | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | Cell Press

Scientists at Washington University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a new tool to study how specific brain cells affect behavior.

The miniature, wireless device can inject drugs into the brains of live mice.

This medical illustration shows a computer-generated image of a group of multidrug resistant Acinetobacter bacteria. The artistic recreation was modeled after images taken using an electron microscope.
Medical illustrator James Archer | U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Researchers at Washington University have found that some multidrug resistant bacteria intentionally get rid of the genes that protect them from antibiotics. That discovery could eventually provide a new way to treat deadly infections.

Ameren's power plant in Labadie is the largest in the state.
Art Chimes

Opponents of Ameren’s plans to build a coal ash landfill in Labadie have reached an agreement with the company, ending years of contentious debate.

The settlement eliminates all pending lawsuits and clears the way for Ameren to start construction.

But it also ensures that the landfill will be built at least five feet above groundwater, and that no coal ash can be brought in from any other power plant — two protections that some Franklin County residents had fought for.

Air pollution from coal-fired power plants, industrial activities, and cars contributes to asthma and other health problems in the St. Louis area.
Syracuse University News Services

Updated 10 a.m. Tuesday with cost information from Ameren.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against the Obama administration, saying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should have considered costs to industry when it set limits on mercury and other emissions from power plants.

The court's 5-to-4 decision was a victory for industry groups and more than 20 states — including Missouri — that had sued the EPA over its 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Michelle Seeger questions Army Corps health physicist Jonathan Rankins while her sister Julie Pinkston looks on. Seeger grew up near Coldwater Creek and has Stage IV cancer.
Credit Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 6/24/15 after the Corps open house - Area residents packed into a room at the Hazelwood Civic Center last night to find out the bad news about radioactive contamination in North St. Louis County.

At the open house, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed it has found radioactive contamination at three new sites along Coldwater Creek.

They are in St. Cin Park in Hazelwood, Duchesne Park in Florissant, and a property of the St. Louis Archdiocese behind St. Ferdinand cemetery, also in Hazelwood. All the contaminated areas are subject to flooding from the creek.

Danforth Center postdoc and plant biologist Malia Gehan shows some Girl Scouts how plants absorb water.
Blaise Hart-Schmidt | Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri

More than 60 Girl Scouts have taken over the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center this week for an all-girls science camp.

This is the first year that the Danforth Center has hosted the program, which is designed to get girls from across eastern Missouri jazzed up about science.

Adult Ozark hellbenders can reach up to two feet in length, making them one of the largest salamanders in the world.
Ray Meibaum | Saint Louis Zoo

The Saint Louis Zoo is sharing its expertise in matchmaking ... for salamanders.

It's part of the 7th Hellbender Symposium, which has drawn more than 100 participants from the Midwest, the Eastern U.S., Japan and China.

The coal ash landfill hearing got underway at 9 a.m. and lasted into the evening. Ameren employees wearing bright yellow vests attended the hearing in shifts throughout the day.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The chambers of the Franklin County Commission were filled to near capacity for much of the day on Thursday for a public hearing about proposed changes to the county’s coal ash landfill regulations.

The regulations will affect a coal ash landfill that Ameren wants to build next to its power plant in Labadie.

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