Health, Science, Environment | St. Louis Public Radio

Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

Robin, 37, at her home in St. Louis.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

After three years and two rounds of in-vitro fertilization, things were finally looking up.   

Robin, a 37-year-old project manager who lives in St. Louis County, went in for a routine 21-week ultrasound with her husband this past November. The couple had no idea that something was wrong.  

An image of the Rush Island Power Plant in an article about its use of the Powder River Basin coal.
Rush Island Energy Center, Ameren Corp.

A U.S. district court judge has ruled that Ameren Missouri violated the Clean Air Act when it made upgrades to its Rush Island Power Plant in Festus in the late 2000's. 

In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit against Ameren, alleging that the utility illegally installed boiler equipment that raised emissions of sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas that can cause asthma and worsen respiratory conditions. On Monday, Judge Rodney Sippel ruled in favor of the EPA, and wrote that Ameren should have applied for special permits and installed pollution control equipment when plant made the upgrades.

Alycia Wilson with her husband and daughter in Edwardsville, a few days after the election. Wilson, a Trump voter, said she hopes for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Republicans in Congress and President Donald Trump have their eyes trained on the Affordable Care Act, which they plan to dismantle.

How they do so, and when, may affect health coverage for millions of Americans. A dramatic shift in policy could reverberate through hospitals, insurance markets and the rest of the health-care industry. At this point, say health law experts, the only thing that's certain is more uncertainty.

A forest fire ignited by scientists at Camp Whispering Pines, Louisiana.
C.E. Timothy Paine

Before the end of March, scientists from Washington University in St. Louis plan to burn parts of an Ozark forest about 30 miles outside of St. Louis. 

Research has shown that repeated burning of forests can help increase the variety of plants that live in a forest. That's particularly the case for plants that live under the forest canopy, said Jonathan Myers, a Wash U biology professor and a member of the Tyson Research Center in Eureka. Having more kinds of  wildflowers can attract native insects that pollinate plants that animals eat.

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

This segment originally aired on ​St. Louis on the Air on Sept. 8, 2016. It will be rebroadcast at 10 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2017.

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.

What are the latest advances in sleep research? On Thursday, "St. Louis on the Air" tackles the subject.
Jon Huss | Flickr

Love it, hate it, don’t get enough of it — we can all agree that a healthy relationship with sleep is integral to a successful life.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, we discussed the latest in sleep research and answered your questions about sleep with Paul Shaw, an associate professor of neuroscience with Washington University’s School of Medicine.

Bill cosponsor Alderwoman Cara Spencer asks Tom Buckley, general counsel for the Archdioscese of St. Louis, to clarify his position.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen is considering a bill that would bar employers and landlords from discriminating against women who are pregnant, use contraception or have had an abortion.

If approved, the bill would add pregnancy and reproductive health decisions to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, alongside protections based on race, sex or disability. It defines reproductive health decisions as any that are related to the use of contraception, the initiation or termination of a pregnancy, and the use of a drug, device or medical service related to reproductive health.

During public testimony at a committee hearing Wednesday, an attorney for the Archdiocese of St. Louis threatened legal action if the bill is passed on the grounds that it violates religious freedom.

The St. Louis Children's Hospital's logo, which replaces the 'n' in 'Children's' with an image of the Gateway Arch, is printed all over the hospital campus, including the entrance off Kingshighway Boulevard. Spokeswoman Abby Wuellner said the logo represe
File photo|Nassim Benchaabane | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri hospitals are providing less charity care than they did before the Affordable Care Act, according to a report by the Missouri Hospital Association.

But that's not necessarily a sign that hospitals are being stingy. According to the report's authors, that means more people can pay their medical bills.

It’s indicative of more people having insurance,” said Dave Dillon, spokesperson for the MHA. “The numbers for 2015 show very good progress.”

Ameren Missouri employees work in the utility's emergency operations center Saturday, January 14, 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis region went into high alert Thursday ahead of forecasted ice storms.

Many schools and government offices were closed Friday, and grocery stores shut down in the early evening hours.

But in the end, the ice storm was less dangerous and disruptive than expected.

Corn stalks sit in a new greenhouse structure, which features 160,000 feet of glass at Monsanto on Oct. 28, 2016.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Monsanto has reached a non-exclusive licensing deal with a local company to use a tool that could help engineer new, high-yielding seeds. 

The GenoMAGIC technology was developed by NRGene, an Israeli startup that opened its U.S. headquarters in St. Louis last spring. Scientists use the tool to analyze genes in plants. Monsanto wants to use it to find new combinations of genes that could produce bigger harvests for farmers.

Physicians, clergy, and members of 100 Black Men gathered for a breakfast held by the Prostate Cancer Coalition.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Black men are nearly two times more likely to die from prostate cancer than any other ethnic group. So when a federal agency cited several studies of mostly white American and European men to recommend against screening for prostate cancer, some St. Louis doctors challenged the decision.

“We worry that we’re going backwards,” said Dr. Arnold Bullock, a urologic surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and member of the Prostate Cancer Coalition. “Prostate cancer’s the most common cancer in African-American men, and still kills around 30,000 men a year in the U.S.”

The rusty patched bumble bee pollinates a flower.
Christy Stewart | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For the first time, federal wildlife authorities this week have sought protection for a bee species under the Endangered Species Act.

The rusty patched bumblebee was once easy to find in the Midwest and eastern United States. Since the 1990s, its numbers have dropped by 87 percent, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Like many wild native bee species in the country, the bee has declined due to pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change, which has affected flowers it depends on.

Provided by the Metropolitan Sewer District of St. Louis

The first thing to notice about Clarice Hutchens’ front yard is that it isn’t a nicely manicured green lawn. Her house sits atop a steep hill and as you come up her driveway, you see piles of rocks, shrubs and trees that blend in well with the woods that surround her property.

Hutchens planted this rain garden, a garden built to absorb rainwater, shortly after she and her husband moved into their Ballwin home in 2004.

Patients entering the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis are often greeted by a line of protesters.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio | File Photo

Planned Parenthood clinics in St. Louis are taking stock of the $700,000 hit they may absorb under a new state law and a shifting federal landscape.

Last year, the Missouri legislature used a budgetary measure to cut the women’s health provider from the state’s Medicaid program. The process takes several months and requires federal approval, so the rule has yet to take effect.

A plan by the Republican-controlled Congress to dismantle the Affordable Care Act also includes a measure that would strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, according to remarks made by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

(via Flickr/pasa47)

Officials at Tower Grove Park want to know how they can make the park more enjoyable and accessible to area residents. 

The 148-year-old park, which has long focused on fulfilling the legacy of philanthropist Henry Shaw, has hired Virginia-based landscape architecture firm Rhodeside & Harwell to lead the development of a master plan.

The long-term strategy likely will consider historic preservation, environmental conservation and accessibility for those with disabilities. However, park officials would like to hear from the public first to determine the direction it should take.

Daisy Duarte and her mother, Sonia. The two appear in an upcoming PBS documentary, "Alzheimer's: Every Minute Counts."
The Duarte family

Daisy Duarte estimates that three quarters of her family have died from a genetic form of Alzheimer’s disease that takes hold in middle age. When her own mother became ill, Duarte closed the sports bar she owned to become her full time caregiver.

“She just had a heart of gold. And then to see her where she’s at now, it just hurts so much,” said Duarte, 41. 

Duarte and her 61-year-old mother, Sonia, appear in an upcoming PBS documentary about the search for a cure to Alzheimer’s.

Ray Meibaum | Saint Louis Zoo

Scientists are urging an international organization to reclassify the cheetah as an endangered species, given the animal's falling numbers. About 7,100 cheetahs exist in the world, mostly in Africa. But that is less than 10 percent of the animal's historic population. 

In the journal Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, conservation experts reported that cheetahs are at greater risk of extinction than previously thought and are calling for increased protection of the species. The authors demand that the International Union for Conservation of Nature upgrade the cheetah's status from "vulnerable" to "endangered." It has been listed as vulnerable for three decades.

Charles and Samantha, the new "it" couple from the community of Great Horned Owls in Forest Park.
Mark Glenshaw | Forest Park Owls

“The Bachelor” has returned to the airwaves this week but even that reality television show would be hard pressed to measure up to the level of drama, intrigue and flirtation found among a community of Great Horned Owls that make their home in Forest Park.

Mark Glenshaw has been observing the lotharios and seductresses of the owl community for the past 11 years in Forest Park. He describes this year’s owl happenings as more dramatic than most.

FDA | file photo

After years of opposition in the Missouri legislature to a statewide program to monitor prescription drugs, St. Louis County is preparing to test its own.

By using a new database, pharmacists in the county will help flag consumers who may be “doctor shopping” for highly addictive opioid-based painkillers. Missouri is the only state in the country without such a system.

Its goal is to take away one of the easiest pathways to opioid addiction, while giving doctors and pharmacists a way to be more vigilant, said Dr. Faisal Khan, St. Louis County's health director.

Richard Claston and Jessica Graham pick out produce inside St. Louis Metro Market Sat. Dec. 19, 2015.
File photo |Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Metro Market, the mobile grocery store created to bring fresh food to neighborhoods with limited access, is adjusting to lessons learned during its first year in operation.

While the nonprofit ended the year in the red, co-founder Colin Dowling said there are lots of positive signs that it will soon be sustainable.

Missouri Department of Conservation

Instead of kicking that Christmas tree to the curb after the holiday, state wildlife officials want St. Louis area residents to donate their used trees to build fish habitats. 

The Missouri Department of Conservation has been submerging used trees in park lakes for 30 years.

"Over the years, that's really helped our fish population and fishing," said Kevin Meneau, a state fisheries management biologist. Anglers, he said, have noticed that fishing is better near the sunken trees.   

Residents of Pacific looked out at their flooded-out town in early January.
Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio

Walter Wolfner was not prepared for the impact that last year's heavy rains would have on his business, the Riverside Golf Club in Fenton. 

"The velocity of the water was so great that it picked up sand from the Meramec River and deposited it on the golf course," Wolfner said "I mean, we'd never seen things like that before." 

While he managed to clear off all the debris from the golf course, which is adjacent to the river, it took three months to rebuild the clubhouse, which had to be completely gutted and rewired. 

The state of Missouri estimated that more than 7,000 structures were damaged by last winter's heavy rains. Like Wolfner, cities and many residents along the Meramec, Missouri and Mississippi rivers have been trying to recover and rebuild. 

Volunteer counselors Dr. Marva Robinson, left, and Adrian Wrice discuss a case during drop-in hours in the basement of the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

In the basement of the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, clinical psychologist Marva Robinson meets with people who know of a conflict that may escalate to violence. She trains her ear to signs of previous trauma or emotional instability. The next day, she starts making calls.

“We start the next day, with trying to make contact with individuals to see how we can have a conversation about the conflict in ways that we can resolve it,” Robinson said.

New appliances sit in the unfinished kitchen at the Ferguson Community Center.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

North St. Louis County seniors will be waiting a bit longer for the opening of a new center run by the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging. The organization is remodeling an unused kitchen and common room at the Ferguson Community Center to provide hot meals and programs for older adults.

Though she had once hoped to open the center by Christmas, Executive Director Mary Schaefer said the space should be ready in the next two months.

In the study he led, Washington University researcher Darrell Hudson found the men in his focus groups were more than willing to discuss their experiences with racism and issues related to mental health.
Susannah Lohr | St. Louis Public Radio

About a dozen of Missouri’s mental health clinics will receive an infusion of federal money in 2017, after the state was one of eight selected to be part of a national demonstration project.

The clinics will be required to collect and report quality data and meet a set of criteria, which will determine how much money they receive. It’s part of a $1.1 billion measure to improve the quality of mental health and addiction services. The law that created the program, the Excellent in Mental Health Act, was introduced by U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in 2013.

A dog eats its meal from a bowl.
Seth McCann

Pet owners should take caution when purchasing canned food for their animals, a study from the University of Missouri-Columbia warns. 

Most canned foods are lined with a resin that contains BPA, or Bisphenol-A, an industrial chemical that can seep into the food contents. Research in recent years has suggested it could interfere with brain development, particularly for infants and children. However, there are few studies on pets' exposure to BPA.

Scientists at Mizzou led an experiment where they fed canned food to two groups of dogs that normally eat dry food from a bag. One group was fed canned food advertised as being BPA-free and another group received canned food without that label. Blood and fecal samples revealed that after two weeks, BPA concentrations rose threefold for both groups.

Valéria Souza, 36, hugs her step-daughter in a family photo.
provided by Valéria Souza

Three in 10 Missouri adults could have difficulty purchasing their own health insurance if the Affordable Care Act the next Congress fully repeals the Affordable Care Act. That’s because one of the act’s main provisions requires insurance companies to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions — a definition that once included pregnant women, cancer patients in remission and people with such common medical issues as obesity.  

The figures come from an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which determined that about 27 percent of American adults under the age of 65 would qualify as having a pre-existing medical condition. In Missouri, the rate is slightly higher.

Drawing of child and scales of justice
Susannah Lohr | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County will close a residential facility for young people referred by Family Court at the end of the year. On Friday, several teenagers moved out of the Lakeside Residential Treatment Center for the last time.

County officials cited the cost of repairs to the aging building and low enrollment as reasons for the closure. The 55-bed center provided housing, therapy and education for teens referred as part of their sentencing. The residents will resume classes at Marygrove, a Catholic Charities federated agency, on Jan. 3.

The cliffs of the Tettegouche State Park in Minnesota are made of volcanic rocks that were formed by the Midcontinent Rift.
Wikimedia Commons | Smokemob

About five years ago, Doug Wiens, a seismologist from Washington University in St. Louis, went knocking on the doors of farmers in Minnesota and Wisconsin. He asked them if they would let him and his team of geologists place seismometers, devices that measure the earth’s movements, on their land.

The farmers were a little suspicious.

“‘Why are you doing this here? Are you exploring for oil? Nobody’s done anything like this before,’” Wiens recalled them asking. “And so, we would show them this gravity map and we’d say, ‘Well, there’s this really unusual feature here and we want to study that.’”

A cassava micro plant, grown in a Petri dish, is kept in a Danforth unit similar to a walk-in incubator.
File photo |Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Researchers at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center say a $10.45 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will allow them to expand a project to develop genetically modified cassava into Nigeria.

The country is the largest cassava producer in the world, and farmers there are watching closely as two plant viruses spread across central Africa. One of them, the brown streak virus, was once confined to coastal regions in southeast Africa. Strains of cassava that are genetically modified to resist the two viruses are undergoing field trials in Uganda and Kenya.

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