Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

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.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, speaks during a visit to NCADA's offices in St. Louis County. He leads a government task force to curb opioid abuse.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County could receive federal funds to establish a regional prescription drug monitoring database, under a new law passed by Congress that President Barack Obama has said he will sign.

The measure allows for local governments, not just states, to apply for federal grants to set up a database to alert physicians when a patient may be receiving too many opioid prescriptions. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said she submitted the language in a motion because Missouri is the only state in the country without a statewide system.

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.

Beating the heat
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis health officials are asking area residents to prepare for more than five days in a row of extreme heat and humidity. Many are calling it the heat dome.

The National Weather Service warns that temperatures could reach over 100 degrees for most of this week. Coupled with heavy humidity, conditions could be dangerous. 

Lauren Mitchell | Flickr

Have you noticed the millions of armadillos wandering around the St. Louis area and across Missouri this summer? Okay, maybe not millions, but they’re there and that’s weird, right? You’re not alone in thinking this.

You often see dead armadillos on highways because the animal jumps a few feet off the ground when it is frightened by loud noises. In the wild, that works to scare off predators. On a highway, however, that is about the height necessary to be hit by vehicle instead of making its way between the wheels.

Washington University biomedical engineering PhD student Ali Ross and Farshid Guilak, PhD, a professor of orthopedic surgery, show a container with a prototype of a living hip replacement.
Robert Boston | Washington University in St. Louis

A St. Louis orthopedic researcher has developed a way to grow a hip replacement out of stem cells found in a patient’s fat reserves, and is now testing it in animals.

The discovery that made it possible happened by accident, said Farshid Guilak, who directs regenerative medicine research for St. Louis Shriner’s Hospital and Washington University.

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.

Katie Rhoades is the founder and executive director of Healing Action. At 18, Rhoades began working in the sex industry, and experienced episodes of trafficking and abuse until she left age 21.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

When Katie Rhoades founded Healing Action, she made a commitment: every peer counselor she hires has worked in the commercial sex trade, and gotten out. Including herself.

“They have walked that path," Rhoades said. "They have, through help, and sometimes not so much help, have been able to come out and do something different with their lives. And that creates a sense of hope and possibility for the women that we serve.”

Healing Action is the latest addition to a regional effort to stop sex trafficking and exploitation in St. Louis.

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.

Planned Parenthood supporters rally in 2015 outside the agency's clinic in St. Louis after a mass shooting at a clinic in Colorado Springs.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Three Democrats in the Missouri legislature plan to file bills repealing two of the state’s laws restricting abortion facilities, following a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that threw out similar measures in Texas.

Local children eat the meal they got from Operation Food Search's mobile food truck. The free meal program makes sure kids who rely on free and reduced-price school meals get food during the summer months.
Susan Gregory | Operation Food Search

New food trucks rolling down St. Louis streets this summer are not selling tacos or burgers, but instead are bringing free meals to hungry kids. 

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. 

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

Dozens of nurses gathered for a picket Monday morning to protest what they say are unsafe staffing levels at St. Louis University Hospital.

In advance of contract negotiations, the hospital’s chapter of National Nurses United conducted a staffing survey in 2015 and compared the data collected to staffing guidelines set by the hospital’s management. Overall, optimal staffing levels were not met on 58 percent of shifts in a 21-day period.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

In U.S. medical schools, a total of nine hours is required in pain management training for doctors. That’s 0.3% of total time in medical school and, to compare, veterinarian schools spend more than 500x more time spent learning to treat pain in animals.

That’s according to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins in 2011 and cited by Dr. Michael Bottros, the director of acute pain service at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

City Seeds director Syndey Boyle with former St. Patrick Center client Deborah at the farm in June.
Kim Oswalt | St. Louis Public Radio

Just a few blocks north of Union Station in downtown St. Louis, a 2.5-acre farm sits hidden in plain sight next to the on-ramp for I-64. Despite its size and relatively busy location, few people are aware of its existence.

It isn’t the only farm in the area that no one knows about.

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.

Zika virus, here shown as a digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph, can be transmitted by mosquitoes or sexually.
Cynthia Goldsmith | Centers for Disease Control

From bioengineered mosquitoes to a $5,000 seed grant, researchers in Missouri and southern Illinois are joining an international effort to stop the Zika virus. 

Scientists say Zika research has been hampered by a lack of funding. Efforts were further stalled last week when the U.S. Senate split along party lines and failed to pass a $1.1 billion spending bill that included a significant boost in money for researchers around the country — many of whom have dropped other work to focus on Zika.

Eli Chen

The Environmental Protection Agency has declared that there isn't enough information to determine if the air around Ameren Missouri's largest power plant is polluted. 

The federal agency had until July 2 to say whether an area around the power plant in Labadie, Mo., about 40 miles from St. Louis, exceeded federal safety limits for sulfur dioxide. The gas is a byproduct of coal production, which can cause respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, and exacerbate cardiovascular conditions at high levels.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Residents near the Bridgeton Landfill did not report significantly higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses on a recent health survey conducted by the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

“There are some concerns, but for the most part, as related to asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it is reassuring,” said Faisal Khan, the agency’s director.

In today's digital world, the rules of socially-acceptable behavior are changing. Or are they?
Jhaymesisviphotography | Flickr | http://bit.ly/293KxaL

Is this you?

It’s Friday night and you look on Facebook, seeing several event invitations that you’ve responded “interested” to. When the time comes, you decide you’re just not that interested in going to anyone’s party anyway and instead opt to spend the evening on the couch watching Netflix. Meanwhile, your friend who invited you on Facebook is desperately waiting for someone to show up to their taco happy hour and only a few people arrive who responded they’d be interested in coming.

A promotional photo for Wing, used during the startup's IndieGoGo campaign in 2015.
Sparo Labs

A St. Louis-based startup has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to market a device that helps patients monitor their asthma and other lung conditions.

A marketing campaign will start in the fall for patients to buy the device  — called Wing — from the Sparo Labs website, co-founder Andrew Brimer said. Pilot programs to get the devices to local doctors and study patient reactions also are underway.

Tom, via Flickr

Local health departments are using their own resources to boost mosquito prevention efforts, as Congress remains split over a funding bill to boost preparation and research for the Zika virus.

Most preparations are well practiced after years of dealing with West Nile: health departments set traps, spray for mosquitoes, and encourage residents to wear long-sleeves and insect repellent.

There have been no cases of Zika transmitted by local mosquitoes so far in the continental United States, but the northernmost ranges of the two mosquito species that carry Zika do cross through Missouri. Seven Missourians have been diagnosed with the virus after traveling to affected areas, including two pregnant women.

Roundup is used on the majority of fields where soybeans and corn are planted.
File photo | Rachel Heidenry | St. Louis Beacon

Updated Wednesday, June 29 with statement from Monsanto — Farmers throughout the European Union will continue to use Monsanto's weed killer Roundup, at least for a while.

The European Commission has decided to extend a license that allows glyphosate, a key ingredient in Roundup, to be sold in the European Union for 18 months.

A file photo of North City Urgent Care, at 6113 Ridge Avenue in north St. Louis City.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Violence in north St. Louis is prompting one of the few urgent care clinics in the area to close on the weekends.

A gun battle outside the doors of North City Urgent Care on a Saturday last month was the last straw, said Dr. Sonny Sagar, its medical director. The clinic, at 6113 Ridge Ave., sits in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood and is one of just a few urgent care facilities in the area.

Provided by Solar Roadways

Roads paved with solar panels may sound futuristic, but people soon will walk and maybe even drive on them in Missouri. 

The Missouri Department of Transportation recently announced plans to build a walkway with solar panels at the historic Route 66 welcome center in Conway, Mo., which is about 180 miles southwest of St. Louis. Electricity generated from the panels would power the welcome center.  The pilot project will examine how feasible it is to use the technology before the department considers putting it on more roads and sidewalks.

Third-generation crane operator Tim Miller, 41, prepares to climb up a crane helping to build a new Barnes Hospital building.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s no shortage of tall yellow cranes helping build the largest construction projects in St. Louis this summer. One listener asked the Curious Louis project how the men and women who operate those cranes get to the top, and we answered.

Jean Beaufort

A program started last year to make locally-produced fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable for low-income St. Louisans is planning to expand into area grocery stores.

Provided by Missouri Department of Conservation

Centuries ago, European settlers brought hogs to North America. But little did they know that the wild descendants of those animals would become a major pest. Considered an invasive species, the feral hogs are known to ruin natural areas, spread diseases and cause enormous property damage for local farmers.

Keith Carter, 53, waits to pick up a prescription for diabetes at Affinia Healthcare in St. Louis. Though he falls in the income gap, he's able to get his preventive care covered through Gateway to Better Health.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

At any given time, a half dozen people sit in the waiting room at Affinia Healthcare in south St. Louis. Two parents coo over a new baby, while a group of older patients chat along the back wall.

53-year-old Keith Carter sits alone. An embroidered polo shirt and badge show he’s just come from work.

“I seem fit. Inside, it’s just breaking down like sawdust. I just keep it in motion,” he said, as he waited to pick up a prescription to manage his diabetes.

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