Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

South Sudanese refugees wait to receive food rations in northen Uganda.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 3 p.m., Sept. 28 with Durrie Bouscaren's interview on St. Louis on the Air from Uganda.

Heavy fighting in South Sudan has pushed about 150,000 refugees across the border into Uganda over the past two months. In July, the World Food Programme cut food rations in half for residents of settlement camps who have been in the country for more than a year. 

The toll of the conflict is clear in refugee camps in the Adjumani District, near Uganda's northern border.

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.

Pills spilling out of a prescription bottle.
FDA | file photo

Updated Sept. 27, 1 p.m. to include county council approval - St. Charles County Council is the most recent local government to move forward with a prescription drug database.

Members Monday night unanimously voted in favor of an ordinance to establish the program, which would share information with similar initiatives in St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis.

Officials hope the program will be operational by Jan. 1.

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.

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.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Founded in 1792, the Old Farmer’s Almanac (repository of quirky information that it is) turns 225 this year. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, we talked about the latest edition of the tome and learned about what to expect in the coming year.

Naturally, we asked the question on one Curious Louis listener’s mind: “Will our winters continue to be mild in the Midwest?” Tim Clark, a contributing editor to the publication, had this to say:

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. 

Nigel Taylor, the principal investigator for the VIRCA project, checks the stems of cassava plants at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

As botanist Nigel Taylor moves through a greenhouse kept to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 percent humidity, he checks the stems of young, potted cassava plants.

“You can see it there, OK?” Taylor said, pulling one forward. “We’re getting lesions on the stem, this plant’s quite badly infected.”

Call it manioc, tapioca or cassava — this starchy, tropical tuber feeds millions of people around the world. In many parts of East and Central Africa, farmers are experiencing declining yields of cassava due to brown streak virus, a plant disease that can render a crop inedible.

For the past decade, scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur have led a project that tries another tack: genetically modifying cassava plants for disease resistance.

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.

Dr. Julian Mosley was the second African-American to graduate from the Washington University Medical School.
Provided by the family

Julian Mosley Jr. was the second African-American to graduate from Washington University School of Medicine, which had been in existence for more than 80 years when he received his medical degree in 1972. Ten years earlier, Dr. James L. Sweatt had been the first.

“I think that happened because, among blacks, the Washington University medical school was perceived not only as traditionally white and expensive, but also as requiring almost impossibly impeccable credentials,” Dr. Mosley said last year. “Even well-qualified blacks didn’t think they would have much of a chance.”

Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Senior executives with Bayer and Monsanto are defending the German company’s proposed $66 billion acquisition of the St. Louis agricultural giant. They were among the industry leaders who testified Tuesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on agricultural consolidation.

The Bayer-Monsanto deal comes as other acquisitions in the agricultural sector are pending. Dow Chemical and DuPont are midway through the regulatory process, while ChemChina and Switzerland-based Syngenta also have a proposed deal.

Kevin Dietl, left, poses with his mother in a family photograph.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

John Dietl knew that his son, Kevin, was experiencing depression. He pleaded with him to get help.

"He did. But he said under one condition; we’ve got to pay cash, and 'I’ve got to go out of town,'" Dietl recalled recently, as he sat at his kitchen table with his wife in Chesterfield. "[He said] 'I can’t let anybody know I’m struggling with this, because it’ll be detrimental to my career.''"

Kevin Dietl, a bright medical student with brown eyes and a passion for water sports, took his life last year, just weeks before he would have graduated from A.T. Still University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville. He was 26.

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.

Christina Arzate, right, listens to a panel of community mentors talk about gun violence Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

About 30 Washington University students are competing for funds to develop projects to reduce gun violence this weekend.

It’s the latest effort in the university’s on-going gun violence initiative launched almost a year and a half ago.

“We want more student involvement in this public health issue. And also we want them to come up with innovative ideas on how we can solve gun violence since usually (the ideas come) from researchers,” said initiative coordinator Poli Rijos.

Dr. John Morley is a SLUCare geriatrician and director of geriatrics at the SLU School of Medicine
Aine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

Earlier this summer, the Pew Research Center released a report that found nearly 19 percent of Americans over the age of 65, nearly 9 million people, were working full- or part-time. That percentage has steadily increased since 2000.

John Burroughs seniors Garrett Moore and Hunter Wilkins plant milkweed at Bellerive Park on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Plants such as milkweed, blazing star, goldenrods, turtleheads, and the aster and cardinal flowers are just a few that are native to the St. Louis area. And, planting them is not only aesthetically pleasing but they are environmentally beneficial, especially to pollinators such as butterflies and honeybees.

What needs to change about STEM education in the United States?
Dominick | Flickr

Does this sound familiar?

“Most students will tell you that the main job scientists have is to make things as complex and difficult as possible,” Norman Lederman told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh.

Lederman, a distinguished professor of mathematics and science education at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, will speak in Fulton at Westminster College on Sept. 14 for the 2016 Hancock Symposium titled “Audacious Ingenuity: Pushing the Boundaries of Science.”

An attendee spent time along the Mississippi River following a water prayer ceremony on Sunday morning.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Every Sunday morning, Saundi Kloeckener makes her way to the Lincoln Shields Recreation area, just north of where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers meet. Kloeckener, who is of Cherokee and African descent, joins a small group of Native American women to offer prayers for water.

For years, the group has met once a week to perform a traditional Ojibwe water prayer ceremony. Together, they stand at the water's edge to thank it, express gratitude and pray for its protection.

This week, in a show of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and others across the country speaking out against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Kloeckener opened up the sacred ceremony to the public.

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.

St. Louis County Police Officer Kathy Poncin practices administering Narcan Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 while emergency physician David Tan looks on.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio file photo

Federal dollars for the prevention of overdose deaths caused by opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers are being sent to St. Louis area counties in both Missouri and Illinois.

Each state also received one additional federal grant aimed at fighting the national opioid crisis. One will help the Missouri Department of Health better track opioid overdoses. The other will increase access to medication-assisted addiction treatment in Illinois, but the Metro East won’t benefit from that grant.

Norris Roberts,  Lonni Schicker and Stephanie Rohlfs-Young discussed Alzheimer's disease and caregiving on "St. Louis on the Air."
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Norris Roberts’ mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease nine years before she died. Over that time period, Roberts and his father tried to do everything right.

Every other week, they’d take her to the beauty shop she always went to so she could socialize. They bought her similar-styled clothes when the old ones no longer fit. They even kept up her tradition of Sunday night family dinners.

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 had been knocked off line 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.

ARS screen in a helicopter
Provided by Churchill Navigation

The Missouri State Highway Patrol is using new technology that can be described as Google Maps on steroids. It helps pilots search for missing persons and better track possible suspects.

Did you know there are over 250 varieties of garlic?
Photography-S! | Flickr

In Mark Brown’s mind, garlic is a “uniter” of people.

“Not everyone eats pork. Not everyone eats wheat or zucchini … but wherever you come from, your people, they eat garlic,” said the proprietor of Gateway Garlic Farms and the founder of St. Louis Garlic Fest, happening on Sept. 4.

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.

Will a new regulation regarding commercial drone flight change how many drones we see in the skies around us?
Joseph Leahy | St. Louis Public Radio

Monday, Aug. 29, marked the first day that new rules went into effect regulating commercial drone operations in the United States. Could this change in rules impact the number of drones we see flying the friendly skies (and in our neighborhoods)?

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, we heard from two people close to the matter — a professor who teaches drone techniques to journalists and a St. Louisan whose business relies on the ability to fly drones commercially. Their names are Matt Waite, professor at the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Ravi Sahu, CEO of AirZaar and organizer of St. Louis’ area commercial drone meetup, which has 190+ members.