Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

(Ken Light)

Michael Pollan thinks of himself as a writer, professor…and eater.  But many people would call him a food activist. The author of controversial books like The Ominvore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, Pollan is known for his vivid critiques of industrial agriculture and the modern American diet.

Pollan is in St. Louis today for the St. Louis Speakers Series presented by Maryville University. He recently spoke with St. Louis Public Radio’s Véronique LaCapra about his views on food and agriculture – starting with what he sees as a healthy diet.

(via Flickr/lobo235)

Updated 5:42 p.m. with comment from Ameren.

Ameren Missouri is pledging to increase its energy efficiency programs starting in 2013.

The company's filing today with the Public Service Commission would represent a complete change of course for Ameren, which had cut its energy efficiency programs from $33 million in 2011 down to as low as $5 million this year.

(Via Flickr/meddygarnet)

A new report by the American Lung Association puts Missouri near the bottom of the list when it comes to state tobacco control policies.

The report grades states according to their spending on tobacco prevention and control programs, smoke-free air laws, cigarette taxes, and coverage of programs to help smokers quit.

Missouri was one of six states to receive an “F” grade in all four categories.


Power plants are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the U.S., followed by petroleum refineries.

That's according to data released today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The data set shows 2010 emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases from more than 6,700 of the largest sources in the U.S., including large industrial facilities and suppliers of certain fossil fuels and industrial gases.

(Joe Angeles/WUSTL)

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill was in St. Louis Monday as part of her state-wide energy tour.

The Democratic senator participated in a roundtable discussion at Washington University about the nation's energy future. At the table were some of Missouri's energy industry leaders, along with university administrators and researchers.

McCaskill says their feedback reinforced for her the need to keep all energy options on the table.

(National Cancer Institute)

There's more evidence that most men don’t need an annual prostate cancer screening.

Washington University chief urologist Dr. Gerald Andriole has been leading a clinical trial involving more than 75,000 men over the age of 55.

The study has tracked the men for over a decade, to see whether getting an annual prostate-specific antigen, or PSA test, makes someone less likely to die from prostate cancer.

(via Flickr/mskogly)

Out today is the Environmental Protection Agency's latest Toxics Release Inventory, which allows the public to know what toxic chemicals are released into their communities. Information is released two years in arrears.

You can drill down in the data to your specific area here, but, in general, here are some of the findings for the states in our region, Illinois and Missouri:


(Jon Wingo/DJM Ecological Services)

Researchers are conducting controlled burns this week at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center southwest of St. Louis.

The burns are part of a project to study how to restore Ozark glades – rocky forest clearings with native species that resemble those of the desert southwest.

Washington University ecologist and project lead Tiffany Knight says fire is a natural part of glade ecosystems.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Psychiatric Center
Missouri Department of Mental Health

After overcoming some delays, operators hope to open a short-term facility next year to accommodate people needing help for a mental-health crisis.

(Missouri Dept. of Conservation)

A controversial Missouri Department of Conservation plan to reintroduce elk into southeastern Missouri is under fire from Republican state auditor Tom Schweich.

(via Flickr/brokinhrt2)

Updated to reflect new information released by the FDA and CDC on Friday, Dec. 30.

A joint statement released Friday by the  Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says their investigation has found no evidence linking four recent cases of Cronobacter infection in infants to Enfamil or any other infant formula.

According to the statement, there is no evidence that four recent cases of Cronobacter infection in infants in four states - Missouri, Illinois, Florida, and Oklahoma - are related. The infants in Missouri and Florida died as a result of their infection, while the infants in Illinois and Oklahoma have survived.

The statement says there is no need for a recall of infant formula and that parents may continue to use powdered infant formula following the manufacturer’s directions on the printed label.

The ongoing investigation includes laboratory testing of various types of infant formula, the water used in preparing the formula, and when available, clinical samples from the infants.

More from Friday's FDA-CDC statement:

"The ongoing investigation includes laboratory testing of various types and brands of powdered infant formula, nursery water and, when available, clinical samples from the infants. The investigation also includes the inspection of manufacturing facilities for infant formula and nursery water.

The following results have been confirmed from completed laboratory tests, although additional lab results are pending release:

  • CDC’s laboratory conducted DNA fingerprinting of the bacteria from two recent cases of Cronobacter infection in infants (Missouri and Illinois). The results show that the Cronobacter bacteria differ genetically, suggesting that they are not related. (Bacteria from cases in Oklahoma and Florida are not available for analysis.) 
  • CDC laboratory tests of samples provided by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services found Cronobacter bacteria in an opened container of infant formula, an opened bottle of nursery water and prepared infant formula.  It is unclear how the contamination occurred.
  • The FDA tested factory sealed containers of powdered infant formula and nursery water with the same lot numbers as the opened containers collected from Missouri and no Cronobacter bacteria were found."

(Véronique LaCapra/St. Louis Public Radio)

Updated 4:39 p.m.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced the first-ever national standards for air pollution from power plants.

The rule will require Ameren and other electricity companies to reduce emissions of toxic pollutants like mercury and arsenic, which can cause developmental effects, cancer, asthma, and other serious health problems.

(Via Flickr/USACEPublicAffairs/Jay Woods)

Updated 4:13 p.m.

An independent panel says the US Army Corps of Engineers did what it could to prevent this year's record flooding along the Missouri River but that changes will be needed to manage increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

Hydrologist Bill Lawrence of the National Weather Service participated in the panel review and says Montana's record-breaking rainfall in May contributed to unprecedented runoff downstream.

(Illinois Department of Health)

For the first time, the Illinois Department of Health is making information about surgical infections in Illinois hospitals available to the public.

(Image courtesy of the George Gokel Laboratory)

Nanotechnology is the science of the very small.

Nanoscientists manipulate matter at the scale of atoms and molecules – often ending up with materials that behave very differently than their macroscale counterparts.

(via Facebook/Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association)

Missouri solar energy companies are calling for Congress to extend a federal tax grant for renewable energy.

The 1603 Treasury Program lets solar, wind, and other renewable energy developers take an existing 30 percent tax credit as a cash grant, instead.

The executive director of the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association, Heidi Schoen, says the tax grant program has driven investment in renewable energy projects nationwide.

(M.L. Fuller, image 137/USGS)

Friday, Dec. 16, marks the 200th anniversary of the first of the New Madrid earthquakes, a series of large tremors centered in northeastern Arkansas and southeastern Missouri.

The earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 were so big, legend has it, they made the Mississippi River run backwards.

Seismologist Susan Hough of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, Calif., says that’s actually true – at least where the fault crosses underneath the river channel.

(Véronique LaCapra/St. Louis Public Radio)

Updated at 6:10 pm to add Congresswoman Emerson's response.

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that romaine lettuce was the source of the E. coli outbreak that sickened a total of 60 people in ten states earlier this fall.

Thirty-seven of those infected were in Missouri.

On its website, the CDC says the lettuce came from salad bars from a single grocery store chain but did not report the name of the chain. Schnucks management has confirmed that it is the chain in question.

(via Flickr/Nathan Reed)

Tomorrow Mayor Francis Slay will kick off St. Louis' first "Sustainability Summit." The goal of the summit is to get public input on how to boost the economy, improve quality of life, and protect the environment.

St. Louis sustainability director Catherine Werner says the summit will include an invitation-only technical session, but evening sessions will be open to the public.

That includes tomorrow's kick-off and a working session on Wednesday led by environmental justice advocate Majora Carter.