Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

Maureen Walkenbach photographed the receipt after filling her son's prescription for EpiPen Jr. Because her family's health insurance has a high deductible, she must pay nearly the full price.
provided by Maureen Walkenbach

Ever since her 6-year-old son was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy, Oakville resident Maureen Walkenbach has kept EpiPens around at all times. One set stays at home in a cabinet, one goes with her kid to school, and one stays in her purse when they’re out and about.

“If [he’s] having trouble breathing, you have about four minutes,” she said. “These EpiPens, I can’t drive that home enough. We have to have them.”

Like thousands of other parents, Walkenbach is amazed by the rising cost of the device. Mylan, the maker of EpiPen, has pushed the cost from about $100 in 2008 to more than $600 today. The most recent cost increase has fueled accusations of price gouging as Mylan enjoys its last months of a near-monopoly before new competitors are set to enter the market.

Sister Marysia Weber  discussed the psychological impacts of the internet and technology on children and adults alike.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

August 23rd marked the 25th anniversary of the launch of the World Wide Web. Much has changed in that time, including how much of the day humans spend with screens, the internet and technology.

Sister  Marysia Weber, the director of the Office of Consecrated Life with the Archdiocese of St. Louis and clinical instructor in the Department of Psychiatry with Washington University, said that she’s seen a big difference in patients with behaviors that she did not anticipate.

Niang washes some freshly picked produce before selling it to Saint Louis University.
Kim Oswalt | St. Louis Public Radio

A coalition of food access organizations is surveying city residents to better understand how to encourage more urban agriculture in St. Louis.

The effort could lead to an ordinance that will remove some barriers people experience in growing their own food in the city.

LAMP Facebook Page

Where can you get a dental exam, immigration resources, and hear traditional music from Michoacán, Mexico? On Sunday afternoon, your best bet is the third annual community health fair at St. Cecilia Catholic Church on Louisiana Avenue.

Legacy nuclear waste at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton was thought to be contained behind this fence, but a new study has detected radiation in trees offsite.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

A special master has allowed the state to proceed with groundwater testing at wells in the portion of the West Lake Landfill where World War II-era radioactive waste has been detected. The decision Wednesday in a circuit court of St. Louis County comes after landfill owner Republic Services tried to stop the testing from moving forward. The tests were scheduled to begin Aug. 22, but the work was delayed when Republic Services attorney Peter Daniel wrote Assistant Attorney General Thais Folta to inform her the company would not permit the sampling.

An "out of order" sign hangs from the pipes of a water fountain at Patrick Henry Elementary School in St. Louis.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When preliminary tests by St. Louis Public Schools found that dozens of faucets and water fountains contained traces of lead, the district shut them off before the school year began.

District spokesperson Patrick Wallace said that to his knowledge, the schools’ water had not been tested for lead within the past 10 years.

A full survey released Thursday found elevated lead levels in 88 district water fountains and sinks.

Sam Moore shared this photo of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park in 2014.
Sam Moore | @museumsamstl |

August 25th marks the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. In observance of the anniversary, St. Louis on the Air talked with those who have had experience inside the parks about what exactly could be done to ensure the parks' sustainability (financial, environmental and otherwise) amid calls to privatize the parks.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Environmental attorneys have petitioned the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to ban commercial trapping of the state's freshwater turtles. 

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Great Rivers Law Center filed the petition Wednesday, arguing that harvesting turtles has led significantly to the decline of many species. In the last five years, more than 17 million freshwater turtles have been exported from the U.S. to Asia to be processed into food and traditional Chinese medicine.

Missouri is one of a few states that doesn't impose a limit on how many turtles anyone with a commercial fishing permit may take. 

Before it was banned in 1978, lead paint was commonly used in homes. In St. Louis, which is dominated by older housing stock, lead contamination is still prevalent.
Abby Lanes | Flickr

Four employees who work in a Veterans Affairs records office in north St. Louis have tested positive for higher than average levels of lead in their blood, though officials stressed that the measurements still fall within the range that is normal for U.S. adults.  

Montrelle Day of the East St. Louis health outreach organization WPT talks with othet attendees at the St. Louis forum on Aug. 20, 2016.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

The fight to reduce the disproportionate rate of HIV infections among young black men can come down to two solutions: reducing stigma and improving sex education. Those were the issues discussed at a forum in St. Louis over the weekend.

A 2014 documentary called “deepsouth” sparked a lot of the conversation among the public health care providers and HIV advocates who attended the forum.

Rush Island Energy Center, Ameren Corp.

Updated Aug. 22 with details from the trial — An Environmental Protection Agency lawsuit alleging that Ameren Missouri violated the Clean Air Act goes to trial today in U.S. District Court.

The EPA filed suit against the utility five years ago. Officials with the federal agency allege that, in 2007 and 2010, Ameren illegally installed boiler equipment at two units of its Rush Island Power Plant in Jefferson County without required permits. Under the Clean Air Act, such modifications are considered new sources of air pollution, which are subject to stricter emissions limits.

A black bear revival is coming to Missouri

Aug 21, 2016
A bear cub observes the Conservation Department team from the safety of a tree branch.
Mallory Daily | St. Louis Public Radio intern

Three black bear cubs look down on a team of Missouri conservationists from a tree branch about 60 feet above. They’re scared, but after climbing that distance in a matter of seconds, they’re safe.

They were probably about 4 months old, Mike Woodring, a retired conservation officer, said, in a recent interview. Woodring is involved with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s efforts to track the growing black bear population in Missouri. He’s trapped more than 30 bears during his career, his most recent was on that morning, when this mother of three took the bait.

The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Veterans Affairs officials say they’re making progress towards shorter wait times at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, but the numbers show that challenges remain. 

At a meeting Friday with the leaders of veteran’s service organizations, Keith Repko, interim medical director, cited the latest report: In St. Louis, patients are waiting an average of five days for mental health appointments, 12 days for primary care and about eight days to see a specialist.

Tim Greaney and Sidney Watson, law professors at Saint Louis University, joined "St. Louis on the Air" to discuss the Aetna pull-out's impact on the Affordable Care Act.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

This week, health care company Aetna (in Missouri: Coventry) announced it would pull out from Missouri’s Affordable Care Act health exchange next year, leaving Missouri residents fewer choices for health insurance. On Friday’s “Behind the Headlines,” St. Louis on the Air will take a look at the background behind this decision, how it impacts people in our region, and the implications for the future of the ACA.

Gabe Weil, in red, on a visit to San Francisco.
provided by Robert Herrera

Careening through the streets of Manhattan, Gabe Weil and Bobby Herrera realized they weren’t sure just how they would park a van and trailer full of medical equipment at rush hour.

“He’s laughing, we’re yelling at people in the street … It felt like this very sitcom, New York City moment,” Herrera recalled. “We’re stopping traffic on 44th Street, and everyone waiting in a taxi is losing their mind, and little old Gabe comes wheeling out of this van.”

Although Weil had muscular dystrophy, that didn't stop him from traveling. But on Monday, his journeys came to an end when he died at his family’s Clayton home. He was 28.


Motorists driving Nissan Leafs or Chevy Volts could travel farther on Interstate 70 next year.

Ameren Missouri filed a proposal to the Missouri Public Service Commission this week to build six "charging islands" on the highway. 

The company is trying to meet a need for power stations linked to a growing demand for electric vehicles, now that the technology has become more affordable. Additional stations would allow cars to travel longer distances, said Ameren official Mark Nealon, who is overseeing the project.

Map of major watersheds in the St. Louis area.
Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District

The "cloud burst" that drenched a mid-section of St. Louis County with nearly four inches of rain early Monday morning is only part of why local streams and creeks swelled their banks, flooding businesses and several busy streets.

Forecasters called it a 25-year rain event, but similar flooding took place just eight months ago and to many county residents it's also reminiscent of flooding in 2008.

During a training for new volunteers, Provident clinician Adrianne Martin (standing) leads an exercise in active listening.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

A St. Louis-based crisis hotline is preparing to receive nearly twice as many calls as usual after being selected to serve as a backup center for the national network.


In October, Provident will be one of 10 call centers around the country taking calls from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline when local crisis lines are overwhelmed. They’re expecting 150 to 200 calls a day from all over the country.

Eli Chen

Residents and local officials continued to press the Environmental Protection Agency for full removal of radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton at a meeting on Monday night. 

By December, the federal agency must decide between four possible remedies for handling the radioactive contamination. The EPA could take no action, cap the waste in place, partial remove it or completely do so.

Engineers at Washington University have found a way to make biofuel from e-coli bacteria.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

People in much of the country are familiar with ethanol, a type of biofuel made from corn that is added to gasoline.

But many may not know that it is also possible to make biofuel from bacteria like e-coli. That could change, now that engineers at Washington University have found a more cost-effective way to make fuel from bacteria.

Gayle Bentley, a doctoral student in the Department of Energy, Environment and Chemical Engineering  at Wash U, has discovered how to change an enzyme in some types of bacteria so that it produces compounds that act like the ones in petroleum. Bentley recently published her findings in the journal Metabolic Engineering.

Eli Chen

Champ Landfill in Maryland Heights will pay $1.6 million in air quality improvements, under the terms of a settlement it reached with the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday. 

Agency officials inspected the landfill in May and detected methane emissions from the surface that exceed the federal limit. Methane makes up 50 percent of landfill gas. 

Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Lab

The federal Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution could provide tremendous financial savings for property owners in Missouri, according to research from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

While the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan does not explicitly require buildings to adopt certain energy efficient standards, it requires states to develop a plan to cut carbon emissions. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy ranks the Show Me State is 44th in the nation for energy efficiency.

A doctor walks into the operating room in a screenshot from "Abortion: The Stories Women Tell."
provided by HBO

After the Missouri legislature passed a law in 2014 requiring women to wait 72 hours before terminating a pregnancy, a team of filmmakers started collecting their stories.

They interviewed dozens of women over several months, many of whom had crossed the Mississippi River to go to a clinic in Illinois, where the rules governing abortions are more relaxed.

Their stories appear in Abortion: Stories Women Tellwhich opens in limited theaters Friday and will air later on HBO.

Provided by Nick Norman

A group of residents in Franklin County want to sue state and local officials for authorizing a gravel mining project that could threaten the gray bat, an endangered species. 

The Citizens for Preservation of the Meramec River on Aug 3., filed a notice to sue the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Franklin County Planning and Zoning Commission and Meramec Aggregates, Inc.  The Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is representing the 25-member group.

Eli Chen

Inside a huge warehouse at Boeing’s headquarters in St. Charles, a table-shaped drone rose from the middle of the floor.

As intern Edwin Mercado-Colon sat at a computer typing commands, the drone began to move around the room and an unmanned vehicle automatically followed.  But Mercado-Colon wasn’t using a controller to direct the drone. Instead, he picked a destination for the drone without telling it how to get there.

“He’s picking a spot in the lab to fly to,” said Mike Abraham, manager of Boeing’s Collaborative Autonomous Systems Laboratory. “That command goes to the vehicle. The vehicle knows where it is because of the motion capture system. It’s determining how to get to the next point, on its own.”

Developing unmanned vehicles that can work together on their own represents the latest in drone technology, a global industry that analysts predict could be worth $127 billion by 2020.

EPA environmental protection agency logo
Wikimedia Commons

As many as 25 homes in Washington, Missouri, about 50 miles from St. Louis, could be affected by groundwater contamination from a Superfund site. 

The site once housed a refrigerator manufacturing plant run by the Sporlan Valve Co., the largest employer in Washington. The facility was demolished in 2011.

Members of "The Palpations," a band started by second-year medical students, try to fix a broken guitar string during practice.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

During her first year of medical school, Katherine Hu struggled with the feeling that she didn’t measure up.

“You end up becoming, actually, pretty cynical. I’d be sitting in class, the professor’s speaking a million miles an hour, and I don’t know what’s going on,” Hu said. “It just becomes heavier and heavier … kind of hopeless sometimes.” 

Fruit and vegetables
U.S. Department of Agriculture | Flickr |

In the midst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, a group of friends in St. Louis started cooking meals in the kitchen of a church. These meals were distributed to seven people they knew who were living with the disease.

That small group of friends quickly grew into a non-profit organization called Food Outreach.  

Today, 28 years after it was founded, Food Outreach provides nutritional counseling and meals to low-income individuals with HIV/AIDS or cancer.

The World Bird Sanctuary is home to over 200 animals.
Kim Oswalt | St. Louis Public Radio

From the moment Katrina (“Trina”) Whitener met “Lonesome George” – the last tortoise of his kind - in kindergarten, she knew she wanted to dedicate her life to making sure no animal had to experience what George experienced ever again.

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri attorney Lauren Hamvas, left, chats with project director Amanda Schneider at Family Care Health Centers in the Carondelet neighborhood of St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Your doctor can refer you to a specialist … but what if she could refer you to free legal help, too?

In St. Louis, attorneys for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri are making the rounds at community health clinics to help patients whose health issues may need a legal remedy.