Health, Science, Environment | St. Louis Public Radio

Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh went Behind the Headlines to discuss the aftermath of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision on a partial removal of World War II-era radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill, in northwest St. Louis County.

Washington University scientists are identifying genetic features of flu viruses to investigate how to predict flu pandemics.
Credit Jacco Boon and Graham Williams | Washington University St. Louis

Washington University scientists are identifying genetic features of flu viruses to investigate how to predict flu pandemics. 

In a study published in the Nature Communications journal, researchers Jacco Boon, Graham Williams, and Sebla Kutluay write that focusing on the genetic makeup of a flu virus can determine how they replicate and mutate.

Darryl Munden talks about Rx Outreach,  a non-profit pharmacy providing low-cost prescriptions for people in need.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

A local company is providing prescriptions for underserved, low income and chronically ill people.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked about Rx Outreach, a non-profit organization based in Maryland Heights, which is a fully licensed mail-order pharmacy. Joining the discussion was Darryl Munden, president of Rx Outreach.

The organization started as a program in 2004 within Express Scripts, the largest pharmacy benefit management in the United States.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill, right.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency proposal to partially remove nuclear weapons waste from a northwest St. Louis County landfill marks a major shift in approach to a problem that’s plagued residents for decades.

Since 1990, federal officials have either passed the buck on remediating West Lake Landfill or proposed building a cap over the site, which does little to prevent the tons of radioactive waste from contaminating groundwater.

On Thursday, EPA head Scott Pruitt announced his “Excavation Plus” proposal to remove much of the waste, which is about 600 feet from an underground fire in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill, and permanently cover the rest.

Here's a guide to our coverage.

The West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, seen from St. Charles Rock Road.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 3 p.m. to clarify how much waste would be removed and with additional reaction  — The Environmental Protection Agency has decided on a partial removal of World War II-era radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill, in northwest St. Louis County.

The EPA proposed a remedy that would remove “the majority of the radioactive material” and construct a cover system to “best protect the community of Bridgeton over the long term,” the agency said today in a news release.

BJC Healthcare is completing two new medical towers.
Huy Mach | Washington University School of Medicine

Doctors at Washington University will soon be able to provide better treatment to infants in critical care and their mothers.

The Barnes-Jewish Parkview Tower will house patients from the Siteman Cancer Center and the Women and Infants Center. It will be connected by skywalk to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Tower.

That connection will allow doctors to transfer infants in critical condition to the neonatal intensive care unit in the event of an emergency. It will also allow doctors to more quickly unite mothers with their newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit.

(L-R) Gillian MacQuarrie, Eli Chen and Kristen Oncken talked about the need for more representation of women in STEM fields.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

There is a stark imbalance in the scientific community, a field largely dominated by men. 500 Women Scientists in an international effort seeking to fix the imbalance and create an inclusive scientific community.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with local members of the grassroots organization about local activities taking place that will introduce more women and people of color to the science fields.

Flares at the Bridgeton Landfill are used to burn off smelly underground gases.
File Photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to soon announce its plans to clean up the waste in West Lake Landfill. For people who live near the landfill in north St. Louis County, the decision couldn’t come soon enough, as the waste sits approximately 600 feet from an underground smoldering fire.

The landfill has been on the EPA’s National Priorities List since 1990. Eighteen years later, the EPA under the administration of President George W. Bush recommended capping the landfill. The waste has sat at the site since its former owner, Cotter Corporation, dumped it there in 1973.

EPA officials may decide to remove the waste entirely, remove it in part, or cap the site.

Microgrid installed two solar arrays at Busch Stadium.
Microgrid Energy

The 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels President Donald Trump announced this week could hurt Missouri's solar companies.

Prices of imported solar panels already are rising as companies want to buy them before the tariff takes effect, said Steve O'Rourke, vice president of business development at St. Louis-based Microgrid Energy.

The price of solar panels has been in flux since last fall, when the U.S. International Trade Commission found that imports hurt two domestic manufacturers and recommended a tariff to protect them. However, the U.S. solar industry imports 80 percent of its solar products, mainly from China.

Dr. Ken Haller addressed how to navigate the flu including the symptoms, treatment and prevention.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health reports 1,282 cases of influenza in the first week of January. The illness is also causing a low blood supply at local hospitals.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed why the flu is so prevalent in St. Louis. Joining him for the discussion was Ken Haller, SLUCare pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital and professor at Saint Louis University.

Haller addressed how to navigate the flu including the symptoms, treatment and prevention, period of contagion and effectiveness of the flu vaccine.

Nurse Thomas Pacatte draws blood from Gary Newcomer, a volunteer of Saint Louis University's Zika vaccine trials in 2018.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

In what looks like a typical doctor’s office, Gary Newcomer, 26, waited to have his blood drawn for the last time as a participant in a trial for a Zika virus vaccine.

Newcomer has visited Saint Louis University’s Center for Vaccine Development 16 times since November 2016. But a cut in federal funding is bringing a halt to the trial before a vaccine can be developed.

Veterans Home resident Curtis Washington shares his concerns as his wife, Sandra, holds a microphone at an event, October 2017.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

The embattled head of the St. Louis Veterans Home could lose his job following a state investigation into conditions there.

Air National Guard, Col. Grace Link, interim executive director of the Missouri Veterans Commission, wants to fire Veterans Home director Rolando Carter, who has been accused of mismanagement.

Link also plans to hire 36 nursing assistants for the home, where some residents complained that they were abused and neglected.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials navigate the Illinois River where there are jumping silver carp, a type of Asian carp.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

State and federal wildlife officials plan to pull out all the stops this month to eliminate Asian carp from Creve Coeur Lake in St. Louis County. 

The invasive species are relentless bottom feeders that have damaged water quality, disrupted the food chain and driven down native fish populations in many Midwestern waterways. 

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

After a record number of influenza cases in St. Louis County in the last week of 2017, the numbers have dipped, but only slightly. 

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health reports 1,282 cases of influenza in the first week of January. That's compared to 1,304 in the last week of December, a record for the county.

An illustration of pills.
Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

White residents in Missouri are dying at a higher rate than they did nearly two decades ago, according to a report from the Missouri Foundation for Health.

The increased death rate largely is occurring in the state's rural counties, especially in the Ozarks and the Bootheel region and substance abuse appears to be a major factor. For example, deaths by drug overdose have increased by nearly 600 percent in many rural counties. Poor mental health also plays a significant role, as suicides among young and middle-aged adults have increased by 30 percent since 1995. 

Betty Arrington plays afternoon bingo at the Mary Ryder Home. (Jan. 4, 2017)
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A residence in the Central West End has had the reputation of catering to poor and low-income women for years. But now, the organization's work to house middle-aged and elderly women with mental illnesses and, in some cases, formerly homeless women, is vital in a city seeking to address its issues around homelessness.

The Mary Ryder Home, 4361 Olive St., isn’t a nursing home or an independent senior-living facility. It gives women over age 55 who can no longer afford to live on their own — either because of mental health issues or financial problems — a place to stay. Permanently.

A rare plant called Dracaena umbraculifera lives in northeastern Madagascar.
Missouri Botanical Garden

DNA technology has helped scientists discover a species of plant in Madagascar that’s long been classified as extinct.

The Missouri Botanical Garden reported Monday in the journal Oryx that researchers found a few populations of the Dracaena umbraculifera. It’s classified as extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, but there are specimens living in botanical gardens around the world. Identifying the plant, however, can be tricky because it can only be truly identified by its flowers. It has not flowered in any botanical garden.

When the hospital closed in rural Ellington, Missouri, a town of about 1,000, the community lost its only emergency room, too. 

That was 2016. That same year, a local farmer had a heart attack.


A few years ago, Kansas City restaurateur Anton Kotar surveyed the local and national restaurant scenes and concluded his town’s reputation as a steakhouse paradise had slipped.

The problem, he says, is the way conventional beef is raised – bulked up with grain on feedlots, making it cheap and plentiful and changing what Americans expect to taste.

Ivan Baxter, a researcher at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and Liz Haswell, a biology professor at Washington University, started a podcast called Taproot last summer to talk about the challenges of doing research.
Provided by Ivan Baxter and Liz Haswell

Researchers Liz Haswell and Ivan Baxter spend most their time trying to understand how plants function. But the two plant scientists sometimes step away from their microscopes and specimens to have honest conversations with their colleagues about the challenges of doing research. They recorded these dialogues into a podcast called Taproot, to represent how they’re digging for stories beyond what’s in a scientific publication.

For each episode in Taproot’s first season, Haswell, a biologist at Washington University, and Baxter, a researcher at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, would pick a study and have a conversation about one of its authors about the difficulties involved in doing research. The issues ranged from finding work-life balance as a scientist to embracing the fact that a researcher may never achieve total certainty in what they are studying. The content, funded by the American Society of Plant Biologists, can be a bit inside baseball for a general audience, but it’s picking up in popularity among plant researchers.

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