Health, Science, Environment | St. Louis Public Radio

Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

After enduring two cesarean sections and other challenges as a teen mom herself, Ferguson resident Tru Kellman started Jamaa Birth Village in 2015 to provide a community-driven solution to a national health issue.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

“Considerable” is the word that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses to describe the racial disparities that currently surround pregnancy-related mortality rates in the U.S. With African-American women roughly three times more likely to die in childbirth than their white peers, “startling” might be another fitting descriptor.

And the difference “all boils down to systematic racism in varying degrees,” according to Tru Kellman, executive director of Jamaa Birth Village, a nonprofit pregnancy resource center that has served more than 300 women over the past three years.

Veolia's incinerator in Sauget, Ill.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

This story has been updated to include comments from the EPA.

The Environmental Protection Agency could loosen its requirement that an East St. Louis incinerator monitor its emissions for heavy metals that could be harmful to human health.

A new Belleville News-Democrat investigation challenges common perceptions about how safe MetroLink is.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Early Tuesday morning, the Belleville News-Democrat published an in-depth investigation into just how safe the St. Louis region’s MetroLink light-rail system is, ultimately concluding that it “isn’t as dangerous as you think” and that crime rates have declined.

Hours later, a man was shot and killed at the South Grand Boulevard Metro station during an argument between two other people. He was an innocent bystander waiting for a bus.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh led an on-air discussion prompted by this juxtaposition.

South Grand Boulevard Metro Bus station
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 6:45 p.m. with comments from Bi-State Development and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department — The man shot and killed Tuesday evening at the South Grand Boulevard Metro station in St. Louis was longtime St. Louis County Health Department Public Information Officer Craig LeFebvre, St. Louis police said Wednesday.

According to police, LeFebvre was waiting at the bus stop on the bridge above the Grand MetroLink station, where people were arguing. One of the men shot LeFebvre, who was not involved in the argument, and another man. LeFebvre later died at a nearby hospital.  He was 48.

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis health officials want to add addiction treatment to the region’s health program for low-income people without insurance.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has asked the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to add anti-addiction drugs and services to the Gateway to Better Health program.

A nurse at St. Louis Children's Hospital attending to an infant that was born premature.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

In the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, doctors and nurses bustled in and out of rooms with small beds and brightly-colored construction paper taped to windows.

Four doctors stood with their wheeled computer desks outside the room of a premature baby boy who was admitted two weeks earlier. There was a lot to discuss, since the young patient has a hole in his heart, liver problems and multiple infections. They talked about what antibiotics he was on and noted the number of days the infant has been taking them.

An illustration of pollution, 2017
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Environmental and faith groups are calling for the Environmental Protection Agency to increase air monitoring around a hazardous waste incinerator in East St. Louis.

The emerald ash borer was first detected in Missouri in 2008. Since then, it has spread to 53 counties.
Mark Smith | Flickr

An invasive beetle is spreading rapidly across the state.

This week, the Missouri Department of Conservation reported the emerald ash borer appeared in 11 more counties in 2018, bringing the total number of affected counties in the state to 53. The larvae of the metallic green beetle burrow under the bark of ash trees and kill them within a few years.

Cancer researcher Samuel Achilefu telling a story at the Story Collider podcast's live taping at the Ready Room in June 2018.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The reason someone chooses to pursue science can be complicated. For Samuel Achilefu, a cancer researcher at the Washington University School of Medicine, his interest in science can be traced back to a traumatic childhood. At the Story Collider’s most recent live taping in St. Louis, he described growing up in Nigeria during the 1960s, when civil war forced him and his family to leave their home and spend years looking for a safe place to live.

Joe Weissmann, left, takes a smell test with Wash U medical resident Pawina Jiramongkolchai after completing smell training on August 1, 2018.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Recovering your sense of smell doesn’t happen overnight.

Since March, St. Louis Public Radio has been following a research study at Washington University designed to understand whether you can train the brain how to smell again. Using a technique known as “smell training,” researchers hope to reverse permanent smell loss.


Physicist Pablo Sobron uses a spectrometer to examine the terrain of a site in the Canadian High Arctic, where a hot spring existed in the distant past.
Dale Anderson, provided by Pablo Sobron

For years, scientists have picked apart data transmitted from Mars probes to find signs of life on the red planet. But since the Martian landscape is too harsh to support most kinds of life, some scientists in St. Louis travel to remote places to study life that thrives in extreme environments.

If life exists on Mars, scientists think it’s likely in the form of tiny organisms that live underground, because the surface receives large amounts of radiation. Mars missions have also revealed that the planet has large concentrations of a toxic, salty substance called perchlorate. Life on Mars would likely be able to tolerate dry, salty environments, so researchers have looked for similar places on Earth.

Michael Guthrie signs up for an appointment at the mobile health clinic.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday it’s giving nearly $3 million to 29 community health centers in Missouri. The money is awarded based on how effectively and efficiently the centers provide services to their patients.

Federally qualified community health centers are one part of the government-supported health safety net for low-income individuals in medically underserved areas. The federal government requires them to offer services on a sliding pay scale and serve people regardless of whether they have insurance or not.

A home in St. Francois County undergoing remediation for lead contamination
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The number of homes contaminated by Missouri’s historic lead mining continues to grow as Environmental Protection Agency officials test more residential yards in St. Francois County.

EPA officials are meeting with communities this week to expand its soil sampling efforts and receive feedback on its plan to clean up the Big River Mine Tailings Superfund site. Representatives of the federal agency had their first meeting with residents on Monday in Bismarck, about 80 miles south of St. Louis. Officials found high levels of lead, or concentrations above 400 parts per million, in 96 out of the 122 residential yards they tested in Bismarck. They began testing in the city in 2014.

Alan Lambert directs Washington University’s Attitude and Social Cognition Laboratory.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Conspiracy theories are nothing new – but they are in the news a lot these days, and they seem to particularly plague the digital age.

“I don’t think they’re more common, but they spread much more quickly now because of the internet,” Alan Lambert said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “We hear about them faster.”

Lambert, who is an associate professor of psychology at Washington University, joined host Don Marsh for a close look at why conspiracy theories persist.

Nurses at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center say without raises, more employees will continue to leave for the private sector.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Nearly one-third of the nursing positions at the St. Louis County Jail are vacant, according to the county’s Department of Public Health. Nurses and public-health officials say the pay isn’t sufficient to keep people from leaving.

Nurses from the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton on Monday told members of the St. Louis County Council if the county does not pay them more, it’s likely nurse turnover will remain high.

“In the past month, we’ve lost four longtime employees to [hospital group] SSM,” said corrections nurse Lisa Wellman, who has been working at the jail for seven years. "And their pay-and-benefits package far exceeds what we have.”

Boxes are piled high in Anne Hickman’s hallway. Family photos peek out from behind the stacks in her one-bedroom Indianapolis apartment.

The study examined over 580,000 patient records collected over a 20-year period and found women were more likely to survive a heart attack when treated by a female doctor than a male doctor.
Maria Fabrizio | NPR

Doctors have long known that women in the U.S. have a higher risk of dying from heart attacks than men.

The reasons driving this gender gap in survival, however, have perplexed researchers. A study led in part by Washington University suggests the gender of the attending doctor may play a role. Women were more likely to survive a heart attack when treated by a female doctor than a male doctor.

Solar panels
File photo| Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio

Clean-energy companies in Missouri are finding it difficult to hire qualified workers, even as the number of residents in the state working in energy efficiency, electric transportation and renewable energy grows.

A report released this week by business group Environmental Entrepreneurs and environmental think tank Clean Energy Trust said the low unemployment rate could be one factor, as a shortage of job seekers is affecting many industries. It also pointed to federal policies, such as the Trump administration’s decision to impose a tariff on imported solar panels, as another potential challenge that’s suppressing growth among clean energy companies.

Pesticides are all over, from backyard gardens to cornfields. While their use doesn’t appear to be slowing, concern over drift and the resulting effects on health is driving research — and more worries.

Those concerns are bringing pesticides to a different venue: courtrooms. 

Medical assistant Raquis Tyler, Dr. Heidi Miller and nurse Cindi Boehm discuss treatment plans for patients at Family Care Health Centers in St. Louis.
File photo | Tim Lloyd | St. Louis Public Radio

Two years ago, registered nurse Amanda Sommer decided she had had enough. She was working as a bedside nurse in a large St. Louis hospital, floating among different departments and taking care of half a dozen patients for 12-hour shifts. Because of staff shortages, her manager often scheduled her to work both nights and days, and the lack of routine was wearing on her.

Sommer left that hospital in 2016 and worked as a home health nurse before leaving the workforce to start a family. She’s one of many health workers who have left their job in recent years. According to a report from the Missouri Hospital Association, health workers are increasingly leaving their jobs. Nearly 18 percent of workers in Missouri and metro east hospitals surveyed by the association left their jobs in 2017, up from 16 percent the year before.

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