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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In Dec. 2008, a dike collapsed at TVA's coal-fired power plant near Kingston, Tenn., releasing 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers and covering about 300 acres of land.
Tennessee Valley Authority

A local environmental group is asking state regulators to deny Ameren’s request to build a new coal ash landfill next to its Labadie power plant in Franklin County, on the basis that the landfill would not comply with new federal regulations.

In Dec. 2008, the failure of a dike at TVA's coal-fired power plant near Kingston, Tenn., released 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers and buried about 300 acres of land.
Tennessee Valley Authority

For the first time, the byproducts of coal-fired power plants will now be subject to federal regulation.

In a state like Missouri, which generates more than 80 percent of its electricity from coal, the new standards could have significant repercussions.

This figure from the USGS West Lake Landfill groundwater report shows levels of radium in groundwater wells under and around the landfill. Red, orange, and yellow dots show radium contamination above the federal safe drinking water standard.
U.S. Geological Survey

Updated 12/18/14:

Groundwater under the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton is contaminated with unhealthy levels of radium.

That’s according to a U.S. Geological Survey report, released on Wednesday by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Ameren's Callaway reactor is the only commercial nuclear power plant in Missouri.
Missouri Coalition for the Environment

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment has filed a petition to intervene with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to try to keep the NRC from relicensing Ameren's Callaway Nuclear Power Plant.

The "plume" of TCE-contaminated groundwater in Elmwood Park is shown in light blue in the top left of this map.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

After years of concern, residents of Elmwood Park aren't any closer to knowing if they are being harmed by chemical vapors.

In the late 1980s, the industrial chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE, was first detected in groundwater under the North St. Louis County neighborhood. The contamination came from spills at the nearby Missouri Metals Shaping Company.

Missouri currently gets more than 80 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants like Ameren's Labadie power plant, pictured here.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Update 1/7/15

The EPA has delayed their schedule to release carbon dioxide emissions rules until ‘midsummer,’ a top EPA official announced Wednesday.

The final rule for new power plants had been scheduled to be published January 8, with the rules for existing and modified power plants due June 2. Now, all will be released at the same time.

Twelve-year-old Ben Gremaud gets a preview of one of the telescopes at the St. Louis County Library, with the help of the St. Louis Astronomical Society's Don Ficken. If you look closely, you can see the library reflected in the telescope's mirror!
Véronique LaCapra|St. Louis Public Radio

Starting Nov. 10, you’ll be able to check out something a little unusual from some St. Louis-area public libraries: a telescope.

The program is a collaboration between the St. Louis Astronomical Society and public libraries in the city of St. Louis,  Kirkwood, University City and St. Louis County.

Anyone who is at least 18 years old and has a valid public library card and state I.D. will be able to check out a telescope for free for one week.

Ameren's Callaway reactor is the only commercial nuclear power plant in Missouri.
Missouri Coalition for the Environment

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment is one of several groups filing suit against the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to try to get the agency to address the long-term storage of nuclear waste.

That suit follows similar cases filed by the states of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Prairie Island Indian Community in Minnesota.

Oxford University Press

Movies can sometimes feel very real, bringing up emotions and even physical reactions as we watch them.

Washington University cognitive neuroscientist Jeffrey Zacks studies how the brain processes visual imagery, including what we see on film.

According to Zacks, movies hijack the parts of our brains that trigger our emotional responses and overstimulate them.

Current and Jacks Fork rivers
National Parks Service

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has signed off on a major overhaul of Missouri's water quality standards.

The state approved the new regulations in November 2013 but needed federal approval to start enforcing them.

Ed Spevak / Saint Louis Zoo

Monsanto will continue selling soybean seeds coated with pesticides that have been linked to honey bee deaths, even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found the seeds do not improve yields.

The seeds in question are treated with a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids, which are chemically similar to nicotine.

On this map, the location of the new temperature monitoring probes that Mo. Dept. of Natural Resources wants Republic Services to install is marked with a purple line.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Updated 10/17/14: Republic Services has confirmed that it agreed on Thursday, in writing, to comply with all of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' requirements ― although the company remains committed to its position that the additional measures are not needed.

Our original story:

There are something on the order of 12,000 to 15,000 pieces of space debris larger than a softball in size orbiting the Earth.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Space debris probably isn’t at the top of your list of day-to-day concerns.

The junk we’ve left floating around in space includes everything from spent rocket stages and old satellites, to nuts and bolts ― even tiny flecks of paint.

And it’s constantly colliding with satellites and anything else in what's known as “low Earth orbit,” including the International Space Station.

Archaeologists from the Illinois State Archaeological Survey dig at the former 1851 house site of Priscilla Baltimore in Brooklyn, Illinois.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Brooklyn, Ill., is a small, predominantly African-American town, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

What little revenue the town brings in comes mostly from strip clubs. But there’s more to Brooklyn than that.

Archaeologists from the Illinois State Archaeological Survey have been digging for evidence of Brooklyn’s pre-Civil-War past, trying to solve some of the mysteries about its origins.

This CT scan of the mummy Henut-Wedjebu, an upper class Egyptian woman who lived about 3,400 years ago, shows small shiny objects that appear to float around her head. These could be glass beads, embedded in a wig or shroud.
Washington University

Barnes-Jewish Hospital had some unusual “patients” on Sunday: three ancient Egyptian mummies.

Washington University radiologists put each mummy through a CT scanner, which uses X-rays to “see” through the mummies’ wrappings, and high-powered computing to generate detailed, 3-D images of the tissues, bones and organs underneath.

The mummies were already X-rayed in the late '60s, and two were CT-scanned in the '90s.

Dr. Leonard Bacharier, a Washington University pediatrician and asthma expert, consults with a patient at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
Robert Boston|St. Louis Children's Hospital

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis needs African Americans with asthma to enroll in a study evaluating different treatments.

Previous research suggests that some medications may not work as well for blacks as for whites.

Via Wikimedia Commons/Victor byckttor

Giving teenagers access to free, long-term contraception can dramatically reduce rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. That's according to new research out of Washington University in St. Louis.

The study is part of a larger effort called the Contraceptive CHOICE Project, whose goal is to promote long-acting forms of birth control like intrauterine devices (IUDs) and contraceptive implants in order to reduce unplanned pregnancies in the St. Louis region.

Ameren’s 2,400-megawatt plant near Labadie, Missouri, is the state’s largest coal-fired power plant. It produces an average of 550,000 tons of coal ash each year.
Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 10/1/2014 to add comments.

Missouri is making headway toward developing a Comprehensive State Energy Plan Wednesday with the inaugural public meeting in St. Louis of the plan's steering committee.

Also on Wednesday, the state's largest electric energy provider, Ameren, released its energy plan for the next two decades.

Credit Syracuse University News Services

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever rule to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

Under the new limits, Missouri would need to reduce its emissions by about 21 percent over the next 15 years.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Véronique LaCapra spoke with EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks about the plan, which Brooks said is designed to give states maximum flexibility.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Quite a bit of information has come out over the past month about the West Lake and Bridgeton Landfills ― some of it contradictory and confusing.

So when EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks offered up an interview ― about something else ― I took advantage of my time with him to try to clear up some of that confusion.

We talked about the underground fire at the Bridgeton Landfill; about the firebreak that’s supposed to keep it from reaching the radioactive waste at the adjacent West Lake Landfill; and about groundwater contamination in Bridgeton.