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Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

Kaci Dalton, 16, helps residents fill sandbags on Starling Airport Road in Arnold. “My other house used to flood so I know how it feels,” she said. “So I’m just trying to help out.”
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis-area residents who are recovering from flooding can get help with cleaning up, filing insurance claims and finding counseling all in one place in the coming days.

Local, state and federal disaster specialists still are assessing the size and scope of damage throughout Missouri from the flooding and storms. Gov. Eric Greitens said Wednesday it's part of the state's application seeking a federal disaster declaration.

Dr. Stuart Slavin, associate dean for curriculum at Saint Louis University's School of Medicine, in his office.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Saint Louis University’s School of Medicine is removing an administrator who drew national attention for his work to prevent student depression and suicide. The decision comes as the school faces probation by the accrediting body for U.S. medical schools, which gave SLU two years to make recommended changes.

Administrators notified students and staff this week that Dr. Stuart Slavin, the associate dean of curriculum, would be placed on sabbatical “so that he can transition to the next phase of his career.”

The St. Louis Zoo's David Powell and Anne Tieber discussed parenting in the animal kingdom on St. Louis on the Air on Wednesday.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Sunday marks Mother’s Day in the United States. In honor of the holiday, we’re talking about motherhood from a slightly different perspective: parenting in the animal kingdom.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh was joined by David Powell, director of research at the St. Louis Zoo, and Anne Tieber, curator of birds at the St. Louis Zoo, to talk about animal parenting styles.

“One of things we can learn is the diversity of the parenting styles, how each one is suited to the animal’s situation – each knows what is best,” Powell said.

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 6 p.m. with details from a report — As Missouri lawmakers stress that time is running out to provide state assistance for moving residents away from the West Lake Landfill, environmental lawyers claim that the Superfund site has contaminated more homes in Bridgeton. 

Nicole Roach and Lorie Jackson discussed the barriers women of color face in the workplace - and how to overcome them - on Monday's St. Louis on the Air.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Before Charles D’Angelo became a weight loss and life coach with clients such as Bill Clinton, Angela Bassett and Claire McCaskill, he struggled with weight loss himself.

Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, he was at one point 360 pounds at a height of 6’4”. He put himself through a self-made exercise and diet plan, managing to lose 160 pounds in two years’ time.

Crews remove hundreds of sandbags Sunday morning at the Steak 'n Shake in Valley Park. The city's mayor tells St. Louis Public Radio the sand wall at the fastfood restaurant near I-44 and Route 141 did not hold during last week's flood.
Wayne Pratt| St. Louis Public Radio

"I'm just happy the residents are back in their homes."

That is how Valley Park Mayor Mike Pennise summed up several days of battling the rising Meramec River, west of St. Louis. He issued a mandatory evacuation order for part of the city of roughly 7,000 last week as residents and emergency officials prepared for a second round of major flooding in roughly a year and a half.

Ryan LaPlant, 13, helps pile sandbags near his grandparents’ house in Arnold. May 2017
Carolina Hidalgo / St Louis Public Radio

This week, residents of the St. Louis metropolitan area have been doused with several waves of heavy rainfall, resulting in flooding across the region.

South of St. Louis, Arnold, Fenton, Eureka and Pacific have been particularly hard hit. Similar areas were flooded in December of 2015.

While the Meramec River, which was responsibile for the flooding in that area has crested and is receding, the Missouri River at St. Charles is cresting today and the Mississippi River from Alton down will be cresting from today through tomorrow. 

Ongoing rain and the threat of more flooding kept downtown Eureka business owners from removing piles of sandbags Thursday morning, as planned. (May 4, 2017)
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Sharon Wasson, a Eureka resident and retired high school physical education teacher, treats her basement as her sanctuary. It’s where her office is, where she watches the news and where she decompresses after a long day.

But severe flooding this week along the lower Meramec River has transformed her basement into a source of stress. 

Waters continue to rise around I-55 near Butler Hill on Wednesday morning. May 2017
Carolina Hidalgo / St. Louis Public Radio

Updated May 4 at 7 p.m. with information about West Alton — Officials with the Rivers Pointe Fire Protection District are urging residents east of Highway 67 in West Alton who plan to evacuate, particularly those who are elderly or have a disability, to do so immediately. Those planning to ride out the flooding, officials said in a Facebook post, should secure provisions.

Arnold residents pile sandbags over a manhole to try to prevent sewage from mixing with floodwater. May 2017
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A second round of heavy rain rolled through the already soaked and flooded St. Louis metro area Wednesday, leading to longer school closures and heightened worries among affected residents.

Up to 4 inches of rain is expected through Thursday evening, further frustrating travelers who rely on two major interstates in the area. Even so, rivers in the area are forecast to crest Wednesday.

A pharmacist at Crider Health Center in Wentzville.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

This week, Missouri transferred the state-run health coverage of about 240,000 low-income adults and children to managed care plans run by three companies: WellCare, Centene Corporation and United Health Group.

The move is part of an increasing privatization of Missouri’s Medicaid program, MO HealthNet. Legislators call it a cost-saving measure that improves efficiency in health care. Critics say the transfer happened too quickly, putting patient health at risk.

The Fenton Water Treatment Plant was knocked offline due to historic flooding.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

The Meramec River is expected to crest at 40 feet on Wednesday, posing a threat to low-lying communities, including Valley Park, Eureka, Fenton and Kirkwood. 

As water levels rise along the same communities that were badly impacted by flooding in early 2016, some local environmentalists say that levees are responsible for the severe floods residents in the St. Louis area have experienced in recent years.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville biology professor Danielle Lee examines a deer mouse with undergraduate student Jacquelyn Isom.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

On a humid, mid-April morning, nearly a dozen students were scattered around a small field across the street from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. They planted pink flags, strung measuring tape up and down the field and used machetes to clear their way through tall, prickly prairie grasses.

“Did I tell you about the fox? A fox just ran past Danielle’s foot. Like, really!” exclaimed their professor, Danielle Lee, an animal biologist at SIUE.

The fox sighting is important, as Lee and her students are trying to find out what rodents and other animals live near the campus. Lee and other scientists who study urban ecology are just starting to discover the ways in which human development affects wildlife.

Pallets full of sandbags that stayed dry during the floods sit in the parking lot of City Hall in Valley Park in January 2016.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated May 1 with new road closure information - Rising rivers in the St. Louis area that are already threatening homes and businesses will also cause major traffic headaches for at least the rest of this week.

More than 70 roads have been closed in the area due to engorged rivers and streams. (See a complete list here.) Officials say more will be added to the list this week. That includes Interstate 44, which will close in both directions at Route 141 Monday night. Missouri Department of Transportation engineer  Tom Blair says it will mark the third spot on the interstate to close since the heavy rains hit the state this past weekend.

Jamie Young and her daughter Maya, 3, listen to a speaker during a demonstration outside of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt's office in Clayton. The group delivered petitions in support of Planned Parenthood.  Feb 23 2016
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Clinics that provide contraception and checkups for about 70,000 uninsured Missouri women may lose state funding next fiscal year, if they give patients information about abortion.  

Mary Miller, Anne Barton-Veenkant and Chloe Jackson joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss this weekend's People's Climate March.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

This weekend, St. Louis will play host to a local People’s Climate March. The event is spearheaded by a new local grassroots group called 350 STL, which is part of an international organizing collective called 350.org.

St. Louis Public Radio's Science and Environment Reporter Eli Chen is part of the organizing effort to bring The Story Collider to St. Louis next week.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Next Tuesday, St. Louis will play host to Story Collider, a traveling storytelling show that records stories about science.  The event’s theme is “Eclipse” and will feature five storytellers from the St. Louis region, in partnership with the 38th annual St. Louis Storytelling Festival, which takes places May 3-6.

Geneticist Michael White, right, visits with postdoctoral researcher Max Staller as he prepares samples in the lab. White is waiting to hear if the NIH will fund a proposal to start his own lab.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

As Congress faces a deadline to pass a stopgap budget for the rest of the federal fiscal year, scientists in research hubs like St. Louis are paying close attention.

According to the new study, a woman's weight before her first pregnancy may have long-term effects.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases | National Institutes of Health

The St. Louis region has long grappled with high rates of sexually transmitted infections, but an uptick in syphilis among women of child-bearing age is drawing the concern of public health officials.

In Missouri, 10 cases of congenital syphilis — when the infection is transmitted in the womb — were reported last year. That’s up from just two cases in 2015. Syphilis is treatable with penicillin, but can cause miscarriages, stillbirth and serious health problems if pregnant women do not receive medical care quickly. Men, however, make up the vast majority of cases.

In the current debates over health care, one topic rarely gets mentioned: dental health benefits. That’s because dental health has historically been separated from the rest of medicine. But today, that separation leaves many Americans with no way to prevent or treat debilitating dental health problems.

Author Mary Otto tells the story of the rampant disparities in dental health in the United States and how those play into other disparities of race, class and income in her new book, Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America.


A three-week-old Mexican gray wolf pup is examined by scientists at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka. The pup was born from artificial insemination that used thawed semen.
Endangered Wolf Center

The future is looking brighter for the endangered Mexican gray wolf, as scientists have announced the birth of the first pup of the species to be born from artificial insemination that used frozen semen. 

There are 130 Mexican gray wolves that remain in the wild, largely in Arizona and New Mexico. Some live at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, where the new pup was born. In collaboration with the Saint Louis Zoo, scientists at the center have been collecting and freezing semen from endangered wolves for more than 20 years.

Stephen Cummings | Flickr

Updated at 11:27 p.m. April 24 with the council's decisions — Two bills that would have established a drug monitoring database in Jefferson County failed during a Monday night meeting of the County Council.

The council heard two competing bills that would have allowed the county to join the local prescription tracking system set up by St. Louis County. But a disagreement over how long a database could keep Jefferson County data, however, likely derailed the whole process, even though council members appear to agree that the rising rate of opioid-related deaths is unacceptable and a prescription drug monitoring database could help prevent overdoses.

Missouri Treasurer Eric Schmitt announced April 24 as the start date for the MO ABLE program, which creates savings accounts for people living with disabilities.
MO ABLE | Facebook

A Missouri program that sets up savings accounts for individuals living with disabilities or their families begins Monday.

The Missourians Achieving a Better Life Experience, or MO ABLE, accounts can be used to pay for qualified expenses related to living with disabilities and special needs. People can contribute up to $14,000 a year, and those who do get a tax deduction of up to $8,000, or $16,000 if married and filing jointly. Earnings in the savings accounts also are not subject to federal income tax. 

Companion Kombucha is a brand of fermented tea that is manufactered in St. Louis.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

At first, it might be hard to understand the appeal of kombucha, a food trend that has made its way from the coasts to St. Louis. A fermented tea drink that’s made using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast sitting atop brewed tea that often tastes like vinegar? Sounds iffy.

March for Science posters for sale at Firecracker Press.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

“SCIENCE IS REAL,” declares a stack of printed signs in a St. Louis shop. “Reject Alt-Facts,” reads a hand-drawn poster shared on a Facebook page. Another photo shows a purple Easter egg emblazoned with a diagram of an atom.

For many scientists planning to participate in the St. Louis March for Science on Saturday, activism is an unfamiliar role. But proposals by the Trump administration to slash federal funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health and federal science programs have been too much to accept, organizers said.

Mike Morrison talks with two staff members at Bridgeway's detox center in St. Louis.
File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri plans to use a new $10 million federal grant to improve access to opioid addiction medication.

A main focus of the grant, announced Wednesday by Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, will be increasing the number of doctors and nurse practitioners licensed to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication that reduces opioid addiction cravings, according to project manager Rachel Winograd.

An adult female bluebird caught by a Southeast Missouri State University researcher.
Kathy Hixson

It’s been nearly 300 years since lead was first discovered in Missouri.

But the element's important role in the state's economy may come at a price to another natural resources. Scientists are planning to study the health effects of lead on local songbird populations.

The research, conducted by biologists at Southeast Missouri State University and the University of Missouri-Columbia, will take place in the Southeast Missouri Lead District, which contains the world’s largest deposits of galena, an important source of lead.

St. Louis-based Express Scripts has announced a new initiative to combat opioid abuse. June 7, 2017
Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri will receive $10 million in federal grant money to help combat a growing opioid painkiller crisis, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt announced Wednesday.

It comes as the Missouri General Assembly is attempting to set up the nation's last prescription drug monitoring program, though the measures have hit several roadblocks.

Antiobitic resistance is a big concern in the medical community these days. On Wednesday's St. Louis on the Air, we turn our attention to the issue.
Nathan Reading | Flickr

When Meredith Littlejohn died, her parents Steve Littlejohn and Stefanie London had spent over a year in and out of the hospital with her for treatment of Acute Myeloid Leukemia. It wasn’t AML that killed Meredith, but rather an antibiotic-resistant infection she developed in the hospital while her immune system was compromised.

Antibiotic-resistant infection is a rising issue in American society and thousands of people die each year when they develop infections that no antibiotic can control.

Jennifer Morrow | Flickr

Updated at 11 a.m. April 20 with Gov. Eric Greitens' comment — A federal judge on Wednesday blocked Missouri’s restrictions requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges and abortion clinics to meet the specifications of ambulatory surgical centers.

U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs said two weeks ago that he planned to enter a preliminary injunction against the requirements, so the ruling came as no surprise. 

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