Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

(Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio)

Washington University is now home to one of the largest zebrafish research facilities in the world.

The one-inch long, striped tropical fish serve as models for studying human development and disease, from birth defects to heart disease to cancer.

(via Wikimedia commons)

In the past couple of weeks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two new drugs for the treatment of hepatitis C, a virus that can cause liver damage and cancer.

The new drugs should greatly improve cure rates for the more than three million Americans affected by this potentially fatal disease.

(Sarah Kincade)

Throughout the country a number of hospitals have been looking to Toyota auto plants to learn how to make healthcare safer and more efficient. Among the dozens of institutions adapting the Toyota Production system to healthcare is Barnes-Jewish Hospital here in St. Louis.

Reporter David Weinberg brings us the story of how Far East auto plants are changing the face of hospitals in the west.

A new analysis suggests racial and ethnic minorities are not getting equal treatment when it comes to strokes.

At the request of the American Heart Association, a group of stroke experts led by Saint Louis University neurologist Dr. Salvador Cruz-Flores examined the scientific literature for racial and ethnic disparities in stroke care.

(Mike Smith)

This morning as the National Weather Service upgraded the tornado risk to "high" for the St. Louis area this afternoon, meteorologist and severe weather expert Mike Smith joined us for St. Louis on the Air.  Smith called this the "worst tornado season" since the 1950's and cautioned that complacency about risk can be one of the deadliest factors during any storm. 

(via Birds Point New Madrid Floodway Joint Information Center facebook page/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The Environmental Protection Agency is looking for possible water contamination in Southeastern Missouri, in the area affected by the Birds Point levee breach.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew up a Mississippi River levee at Birds Point on May 2 to protect upstream communities like Cairo, Ill.

The levee breach flooded 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland, including a confined animal feeding operation.

(Donald Danforth Plant Science Center)

An event starting Monday at the Danforth Plant Science Center is looking to match up investors with emerging agricultural technology companies from across the globe.

The third annual Ag Innovation Showcase will draw international venture capitalists and corporate agricultural investors like Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont.

Showcase organizer Mark Gorski says sixteen agricultural start-ups from the Netherlands, India, and a number of other countries will be vying for their attention.

(U.S. Geological Survey)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is holding drills across six states this week to see how prepared they are for a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault.

FEMA is teaming up with the military, as well as local hospitals, shelters and morgues for the simulation.

Beth Freeman is the FEMA regional administrator for Missouri and several neighboring states.

(via Wikimedia Commons)

A national river quality organization has listed Missouri's Current River as a victim of over-use, and one of the most endangered rivers in America.

The report by American Rivers shows that in 1984 the Current River in the Ozark Riverways Scenic Park had only 13 access points.

Today, there are more than 130, leading to erosion, pollution and overuse.

(via Wikimedia commons)

The FDA has approved a new drug for the treatment of hepatitis C, a viral disease that attacks the liver and can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

In the U.S., existing medications cure only about 50 percent of patients.

Dr. Bruce Bacon of Saint Louis University led a clinical trial for the new drug, boceprevir.

Bacon says adding boceprevir to the standard two-drug treatment significantly improved cure rates, especially for patients who have been treated before and failed to recover.

(Washington University School of Medicine/ Matthew J. Ellis)

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have shown that estrogen-lowering drugs can help reduce the need for mastectomy in some breast cancer patients.

Estrogen is known to increase tumor growth in the majority of breast cancer patients.

In a new study, post-menopausal women with large breast cancer tumors were given one of three estrogen-lowering drugs before surgery.

Study lead Dr. Matthew Ellis says all three drugs were equally effective in shrinking tumors and reducing the need for complete breast removal.

Algae, that very same stuff that turns aquarium walls and backyard fences green, are also a potent source of energy, and hold significant potential as a clean, renewable fuel source.  Algae were first investigated as a source of energy back in the 1970’s when high gas prices prompted an interest in alternative energies and the US Department of Energy created the Aquatic Species Program.  That program was discontinued in 1996, but as oil costs have continued to rise and energy independence has reemerged as a national priority, researchers around the world, and many right here in St. Louis, are again focused on the potential of algal biofuels.

(Missouri Department of Conservation/Jim Low)

For the first time since the Civil War, elk are back on Missouri soil.

The 34 elk spent three months in quarantine in Kentucky before arriving today in southeast Missouri. They'll be housed temporarily at the Peck Ranch Conservation Area, which is part of the elk restoration zone.

The elk's arrival was delayed from April 30 so conservation officials could complete all the necessary health tests.

(via Flickr/shehal)

Representatives of the biomass energy industry have gathered in St. Louis this week.

They're here to discuss technologies for turning everything from crop residues to municipal trash into liquid fuels, heat, and electricity.

Tim Portz is the program director for BBI international, the company organizing the International Biomass Conference & Expo.

He says it's not going to be easy for the biomass industry to gain a foothold in the marketplace of already established U.S. energy producers.

You can also see photos of the elk and find out more about the reintroduction above. And, for more information about  the elk restoration efforts prior to their arrival in Missouri, see the video below the story text.

Starting tomorrow*, elk will be back in Missouri. They haven’t been here since the mid-1800s, when hunting and habitat loss drove eastern elk to extinction.

States from Arkansas to Pennsylvania have since reestablished their elk populations. And now Missouri is trying to do the same.

But not everyone is happy about the state’s elk reintroduction plans.

(Véronique LaCapra/St. Louis Public Radio)

This week in St. Louis, close to 9,000 high school students from five countries will compete in the FIRST Robotics Championship.

Teams of student-built, remote-control robots will take to the field at the Edward Jones Dome. Organizers hope the competition will draw more than 20,000 spectators and generate at least $18 million in local spending.

Véronique LaCapra was at the St. Louis Regional event in March and has this inside look at the competition.

(via Flickr/Intenational Center for Tropical Agriculture)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur $8.3 million to increase the nutritional value of a staple crop in Africa.

(St. Louis Zoo)

A 40-year old Asian elephant at the St. Louis Zoo named "Donna" has tested positive for tuberculosis, but is expected to be just fine.

Donna the Elephant came to the St. Louis zoo as a 3-year old juvenile in 1971.

All elephants get complete medical evaluation each year including blood collection, vaccinations and trunk cultures to look for tuberculosis.

Randy Junge, the Zoo's Director of Animal Health said the 40-year-old pachyderm will live off-display for the next year, but won't be quarantined.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: In the days since the twin earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, news of the resulting leaks of radioactive material from Japanese nuclear facilities and worries about food contamination have flooded the airwaves. That has left many in the U.S. fearing the worst about friends and loved ones in Japan -- and about the health risks here at home.

(via Neurology ®)

Workers exposed to the metal manganese in welding fumes may be at increased risk of developing Parkinson’s-like symptoms, including loss of motor control and tremors.

That’s the finding of researchers at Washington University School of Medicine, who compared brain scans of apparently healthy welders to those of Parkinson’s patients.

View Locations of found radiation from Japan in IL in a larger map

The map above depicts the locations highlighted in the following story where trace amounts of radiation from Japan have been found in Illinois - Will County and Springfield, Ill.

Reporting from Illinois Public Radio's Sean Crawford used in this report.

Trace amounts of radiation from Japan have shown up in Illinois. But state officials say there's no reason for concern.

Minute levels of radioactive materials have been detected in both northern and central Illinois.  The state's Emergency Management Agency says radioactive iodine was found in grass clippings in Will County and in an air sample collected at a lab in Springfield.

View Larger Map

The above map depicts Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club (right), across the street from the Carter Carburetor Superfund site, a former gasoline and diesel carburetor manufacturing plant which closed in 1984.

The Environmental Protection Agency is a step closer to cleaning up a contaminated industrial property on the city's north side.

In a memorandum signed today, the EPA spells out the steps it will take to clean up the Carter Carburetor Superfund site.

(Christian Mundigler)

Archeologists from the University of Missouri-St. Louis have discovered continental Europe’s earliest known written record.

The clay tablet fragment dates back to between 1490 and 1390 BC – at least 100 years before any other known writings from mainland Europe.

(Véronique LaCapra/St. Louis Public Radio)

More than a million Americans are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. About a quarter of them are women, and in St. Louis and throughout the country, African-American women are disproportionately affected.

An HIV diagnosis can lead not just to debilitating medical problems, but to social stigma and isolation. But as St. Louis Public Radio’s Véronique LaCapra reports, a photography project is giving some HIV-positive women a new way to look at their disease and its challenges.

Scientists have taken another step toward understanding human nutrition.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have shown they can grow entire collections of human intestinal microbes in the laboratory.

Washington University microbiologist Dr. Jeffrey Gordon says his team then transplanted the bacterial communities into previously germ-free mice, to see how the lab-grown bacteria would respond to a human diet.

(via Flickr/Sam Beebe-Ecotrust)

A lawsuit filed in California is challenging the federal government's deregulation of alfalfa that is genetically altered to withstand the popular weed killer Roundup.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspection team is at Ameren Corp.'s Callaway nuclear plant near Fulton after concerns were raised about lubrication of an auxiliary feedwater pump.

An Ameren spokesman says the inspection is unrelated to heightened concerns at nuclear plants following the damage to the plant in Japan.

The NRC says an oil sample taken Feb. 8 showed the auxiliary pump might have been inadequately lubricated.

View Callaway nuclear power plant in a larger map

Missouri’s sole nuclear power plant was built to handle “worst case” natural disasters.

That’s what Ameren officials told reporters Friday morning, at a press conference called in response to the nuclear crisis in Japan.

(Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio)

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

The new rules would require many power plants to install technologies to control mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollutants.

Environment Missouri's Ted Mathys says the new standards would help protect the health of Missourians.

Ameren Missouri is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the company by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The suit filed in January alleges that Ameren violated the Clean Air Act by making multi-million-dollar modifications to its coal-fired power plant in Festus without installing required pollution controls and obtaining the necessary permits.

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