Health, Science, Environment | St. Louis Public Radio

Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

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. 

The Bagnell Dam at Lake of the Ozarks
Ameren Missouri

The dam that created Lake of the Ozarks is getting its first major upgrade in more than three decades. 

Ameren Missouri this week began demolishing the old, weathered concrete at the Bagnell Dam, home to the Osage Energy Center, the largest generator of hydroelectric power in the state. The $52 million project involves removing and adding more than 66 million pounds of concrete, and drilling holes to drain water that leaks under the dam.

Pinwheels for child abuse victims in St. Charles County. April 18, 2017.
Marie Schwarz | St. Louis Public Radio

In St. Charles County, 181 children in were abused and neglected last year. Those were the reported cases. At least one study has found that one in four children suffer some form of abuse or neglect in their lifetimes.

This week marks National Healtcare Decisions week. On Tuesday, Virginia Rice and Brian Carpented joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss how to make end-of-life decisions easier.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

This week, health-care professionals and families are making a point to talk about a subject that can be very difficult for some: end-of-life decisions. This week marks National Healthcare Decisions week.

As the outreach counselor for Battle High School in Columbia, Missouri. Dana Harris’s job is connecting students with services when they have mental and emotional troubles such as ADHD, anxiety or depression.

LED light beside a decades old bulb-based streetlight fixture.
Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

An initiative to update streetlights could save the City of St. Louis more than $150,000 a year. Installation of new LED technology is already underway and the city says the effort should improve lighting, especially in some dark areas on local roads.

The initial phase involves nearly 5,000 LED fixtures that will replace current high-pressure sodium light bulbs on major routes like Grand Boulevard and Kingshighway.

Courtesy of Planned Parenthood Great Plains

The law signed on Thursday by President Trump allowing states to cut off family-planning funding to Planned Parenthood won’t have an immediate effect on the organization’s affiliates in Missouri and Kansas.

That’s because Kansas barred Planned Parenthood from receiving Title X family planning funds several years ago — a move later upheld by a federal appeals court.

Julie Russell, Dayna Stock and Mark Tranel joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss a new report from the United Way and UMSL.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

A recent report by the United Way and the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis found that 43 percent of all St. Louis metropolitan area households (encompassing 16 counties) do not have the monthly income to meet their basic living expenses. Basic living expenses include housing, food, transportation, taxes, health care and child care.

Lethal doeses of heroin, left, and fentanyl, right. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller, is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.
provided by the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Lab

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller, made up almost half of drug overdose deaths in parts of the St. Louis region last year, according to county coroners in Missouri and Illinois.

The drug is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, and inhaling just a few grains can be lethal.

“If I can be blunt, it’s scary as hell,” said Brandon Costerison, a spokesperson for the anti-addiction group NCADA's St. Louis chapter. “And we don’t really have anything to indicate it’s subsiding yet.”

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

A bill to create a buyout program for homes near the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton has been overwhelmingly approved by the state Senate. 

Under the proposal, residents of the Spanish Village subdivision near the site could apply to sell their homes to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. As many as 91 families could have the option to move away from the World War II-era radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill, which sits about 600 feet from the underground smoldering fire at the Bridgeton Landfill. Many residents have expressed concern about the potential health risks of living there.

Six years ago, 53-year-old Corla Morgan noticed blisters forming on her neck and back.

“I couldn’t sleep because when I took my shirt off, if my shirt touched my skin, the skin just peeled off,” Morgan says. “I was in really horrible pain.”

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri corn and soybean farmers may see higher yields this year, as scientists from the University of Missouri-Columbia forecast mild weather and moderate rainfall this summer. 

Meteorological records show that dry, mild winters typically are followed by average to slightly more than average rainfall in the spring and summer. 

"The reason why that would be is just a switch in the jet stream pattern and now is the time of the year when we expect there to be wetter conditions in April and May," said Tony Lupo, a professor of atmospheric science at Mizzou. 

Sam Werkmeister, 30, sits on his porch in Granite City on March 30, 2017. Werkmeister is recovering from an addiction to opioids, which began with prescription pills.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

Sam Werkmeister, a father of two, nearly died six times last year.

He started taking pain pills to get through shifts at a restaurant. That led him to a full-blown addiction to opioids. After a relapse last summer, it took Werkmeister six months to gather the courage to go back into treatment. 

“It’s called carfentanil, and it’s really cheap,” he said, as he sat on a worn couch in the Granite City group home he shares with a half dozen other men. “It destroyed my life.”

Richard Riegerix, 46, uses a breathing machine to treat emphysema in a temporary shelter set up in a city-owned warehouse. Riegerix stayed at New Life Evangelistic Center for three months before it was closed down by the city on April 2, 2017.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

By dinnertime, the beds had started to fill.

Earlier, employees for the city of St. Louis had laid out about 70 green and orange cots in the corner of a Forestry Division warehouse in the Carr Square neighborhood. They anticipated that at least several dozen people would be without shelter on Sunday night as the city order the closing the  New Life Evangelistic Center, in downtown St. Louis, after a years-long legal battle.

SIUE psychology professor Stephen Hupp lets a class of preschoolers at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis touch a robot named Mo after a lesson on human emotions in March 2017.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

One morning at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis, an unusual guest arrived to greet more than a dozen preschoolers, who gathered on a ketchup-colored mat, surrounded by cubby shelves, Clifford books and crayon drawings.

The visitor, a white robot with blue patches of armor on its head and joints, stood about 2 feet tall. It had arms and legs, like a person, but its plastic face had no expression.

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 number of infants in Missouri who die in their first year is slowly dropping alongside national numbers, but St. Louis’ infant mortality rate has remained nearly stagnant, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Missouri Solar Energy Industry Association

The solar industry is employing more people in Missouri, according to a report that was released this week by a renewable energy nonprofit.

The Solar Foundation reported that Missouri added more than 500 jobs in the industry in 2016, a 28 percent increase over the previous year. Most of the jobs are based in the St. Louis area, followed by Jackson, Texas and Greene counties. Clean energy advocates attribute this growth to plummeting costs of solar to consumers and rising public awareness.

Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis
provided by Barnes Jewish Hospital

A new Missouri rule will strip state family planning funds from organizations that provide abortions, including hospitals. But several facilities are choosing to go without the money, instead of providing the state with a letter to certify that they do not offer the procedure.

At issue is a $10.8 million portion of the state’s Medicaid program, which covers pelvic exams, tests for sexually transmitted diseases and  family planning services for about 70,000 low-income Missouri women. To prevent violating a federal law that says Medicaid patients must be allowed to choose their own provider, the state is rejecting about $8.3 million annually in federal funds, and paying the difference with money from the state.

Ameren Missouri's largest coal-fired power plant in Labadie, Missouri.
File photo | Veronique LaCapra I St. Louis Public Radio

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order today that would relieve coal-dependent states such as Missouri from having to comply with strict carbon emissions limits. The plan to eliminate the Clean Power Plan was announced earlier this week by Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt. 

About 77 percent of electricity generated in Missouri comes from coal. Under the Clean Power Plan, Missouri would have to cut its carbon pollution by nearly a third by 2030, based on 2012 levels. Coal-fired power plants would be required to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and over the long term, and utility companies that operate them would have to transition away from coal to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. Missouri is one of 28 states challenging the rule in court.

But local environmentalists say there are consequences to removing the Clean Power Plan.

Zika virus, here shown as a digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph, can be transmitted by mosquitoes or sexually.
Cynthia Goldsmith | Centers for Disease Control

A Saint Louis University analysis of mosquito migration patterns and sexually transmitted diseases places the St. Louis region on a map of counties that could see an elevated risk for Zika infections this summer. The virus is spread by mosquitoes but can also be transmitted sexually for several months after symptoms occur.

However, the overall risk in the continental United States is still very low, study author Enbal Shacham said.

In 1962, laughter epidemic afflicted several communities for more than two years in present-day Tanzania.
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

In 1962, a strange epidemic swept through several communities in Tanganyika, present-day Tanzania. It wasn’t a virus, but laughter among teenage schoolgirls. The contagious laughter, which lasted for about two and a half years, afflicted about 1,000 people and forced at least 14 schools to temporarily shut down.

Experts later determined that the origin of the epidemic was psychological, perhaps related to stress caused by the presence of British colonialism. But such events have raised scientific questions about why humans can’t control behaviors such as laughing, yawning, coughing and shivering — and why they spread among groups of people.

“We are a part of a human herd whose behavior is often the involuntary playing out of an ancient neurological script that is so familiar that it goes unnoticed,” wrote neuroscientist Robert Provine in his book, "Curious Behavior."

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

A central Illinois center for addiction treatment will stay open for now, despite payment delays during the state’s ongoing budget crisis. After two years without a permanent budget, the state is facing a backlog of $12.6 billion in unpaid bills to state employees, contractors and agencies.

Tax season is underway. So is a program that helps low- to moderate-income St. Louis families prepare their taxes for free.
401(K) 2012, via Flickr

Here’s something that may need to be clarified this tax season. Despite the ongoing debate in Washington over a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the law’s requirement for people to be enrolled in health coverage or face a tax penalty is still on the books.

“People should go ahead and take care of their taxes as they would, as if the law hasn’t changed," said Geoff Oliver, a staff attorney for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. "Because at this point the law hasn’t changed.”

Workers for the Metropolitan Sewer District begin to demolish a house on Greer Avenue as a part of program to turn vacant properties into green spaces. (March 22, 2017)
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District has started demolishing abandoned buildings to kick off a $13.5 million project to build green spaces in the city.

The Urban Greening Program is a part of MSD’s $100 million initiative to divert rainwater from entering the city’s sewers and contaminating local waterways. It’s also a key portion of a settlement agreement in 2012 with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency that requires the sewer district to spend $4.7 billion over the next two decades on improvements to sewer systems in St. Louis and St. Louis County, a larger effort called Project Clear.

Advocate and author Christine McDonald, right, listens to U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri testify during a public hearing in St. Louis about human trafficking.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Eastern Missouri has four full-time police officers dedicated to investigating human trafficking cases, but convictions are rare.

Law enforcement officials say it's hard to build cases against perpetrators because witnesses are few and victims often are unseen. To improve awareness, Webster University will hold a training session this weekend for law students and the general public. Attendees will hear how people are forced into sex work and other trades, and how to identify warning signs.

Judge Paul Herbert stands in his courtroom after one of the court's weekly sessions.
Andrea Muraskin | Side Effects

Originally published July 7, 2016, by Side Effects Public Media. 

It’s not something you expect to see in a courtroom: 35 women, chatting, laughing, eating lasagna. But brunch before the session is a weekly tradition at an unusual court in Columbus, Ohio.

Once the plates are cleared away and everyone sits down in a semicircle facing the bench, a probation officer steps to the center of the room, with an empty plastic bin and a big smile.

“You know I love you so much, right?” she says, as she collects everyone’s cell phones, to a chorus of groans.

Monsanto's widely-used weed killer Roundup on a shelf in Home Depot.
File photo | Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Monsanto is facing more pressure to compensate farmers and farm workers who allege that its leading pesticide product caused them to develop cancer. 

A Los Angeles-based law firm on Friday filed 136 new cases against the company in St. Louis County Circuit Court. The lawsuits allege that exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, caused the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Ali Fields, Aisha Lubinski and David Bachman joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss their eating disorders.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

For the estimated 575,000 Missourians struggling with an eating disorder of some kind, a huge barrier to overcome is having the vocabulary to describe the problem. That was certainly the case for Ali Fields.

“I was an anxious and uncomfortable kid, I had low self-esteem and anxiety,” Fields told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh. “I did not know that [an eating disorder] was what it was. At age 8, I did not have the language to communicate that something was wrong.”

An adult Eastern massasauga in southwestern Michigan.
Photo provided | Eric T. Hileman

Illinois scientists are studying an endangered species of rattlesnake to find ways to revive its numbers. 

The Eastern massasauga once was widespread in the Midwest, living mainly in the Great Lakes region. Over several decades, its population declined dramatically. The species lives in wetlands, many of which have been drained to to build farms. Northern Illinois University biologist Richard King said it's also the only venomous snake in its range, which has made it a target.

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