Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

(St. Louis Public Radio)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is giving a reprieve to southwestern Illinois and other U.S. areas guarded by levees it was to have deemed functionally useless.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told federal lawmakers Thursday that the agency would hold off on decertifying 64 miles of earthen levees protecting St. Louis' Illinois suburbs.

Fugate says the agency would stop using a questioned assessment technique and turn to a more nuanced measure of the actual protection the levees provide.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has added the Washington County Lead District-Furnace Creek site in Washington County, Missouri, to the federal Superfund National Priorities List (NPL).

The NPL is a list of the nation's hazardous waste sites with the highest priority for cleanup.

(via Flickr/janineomg)

Back in December 2010 we told you that St. Louis is joining the National Children's Study, the largest long-term study of child health ever conducted in the United States.

Monsanto is entering a multi-year research collaboration with San Diego-based Sapphire Energy.

Sapphire specializes in genetically-engineering algae with the goal of producing drop-in replacements for fuels like gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

The collaboration between Sapphire and Monsanto will focus on identifying genes that positively affect growth in algae and that might also increase agricultural crop yields.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released a new report about its planned re-evaluation of the future use of the Missouri River, and is looking for more public input on the study.

The draft report summarizes the more than 1,200 comments received by the Corps last year during the study scoping period.

(Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio)

St. Louis area medical professionals are throwing their support behind a bill making its way through the Missouri legislature. The bill would help protect high school athletes from concussions.

Among other measures, the High School Sports Brain Injury Prevention Act would require student athletes to be cleared by a doctor before returning to play or practice.

(Art Chimes)

“Food deserts” – places without access to fresh produce and other healthy foods – continue to be a problem throughout the U.S.

Here in St. Louis, the Old North Grocery Co-op opened last summer, in an effort to increase healthy food options in an underserved part of the city. It’s the first co-op in Missouri to serve a predominantly low-income neighborhood.

The director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Roger Beachy was in St. Louis recently visiting the Old North co-op and discussing the issue of nutrition.

Ameren Missouri's coal fire power plant at Labadie.
Veronique LaCapra I St. Louis Public Radio

In the small Franklin County town of Labadie, Missouri, about 35 miles west of St. Louis, a debate is raging over what to do with millions of tons of coal ash.

The dispute is pitting area residents against the utility company Ameren – and putting Franklin County’s commissioners in the middle of the fight.

sifaka lemurs
Courtesy Saint Louis Zoo

Recently, a kangaroo joey, then a rhino calf were born at the St. Louis Zoo. Now, adding to its collection of new little residents, the latest arrival is a Coquerel’s sifaka, an endangered lemur species from Madagascar.

The baby was born at the Saint Louis Zoo’s Primate House on Jan. 9, 2011.

EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks says the federal government is confident Ameren Missouri violated the Clean Air Act at its Rush Island power plant near Festus.

Brooks was responding to a letter sent to the EPA last month by Senator Roy Blunt.

In the letter, Blunt defended Ameren and accused the EPA of overreaching its authority in order to “broadly penalize the use of coal in the United States.”

Some scientists say risks of another major earthquake from the New Madrid fault are minimal.

But FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate insists the threat to the St. Louis region is real.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate says homes and businesses in the Mississippi River floodplain may need flood insurance, even if they are protected by a levee.

Last week senators from Missouri, Illinois and 16 other states sent a letter to Administrator Fugate.

Updated at 5:00 p.m. with comment from Ameren Missouri.

A new report suggests that power plants in Illinois and Missouri are among the nation’s top emitters of mercury pollution.

Mercury can cause serious health problems for both wildlife and people who eat contaminated fish.

Tomorrow marks the St. Louis kickoff of the bicentennial events commemorating the earthquakes that struck the New Madrid Seismic Zone in 1811-12.  You’ve probably heard stories about those quakes: that church bells rang in Boston, that the Mississippi River ran backwards. Much of that, it turns out, is legend.  So what do we know about the New Madrid fault and the risk it poses to the modern Midwest?

Farmers will be able to plant Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beets this spring.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today that planting could continue while the Agency completes an Environmental Impact Statement.

The beets have been genetically-engineered to tolerate Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.

There is strong evidence that human-produced greenhouse gases—like carbon dioxide and methane—are changing the Earth’s climate.

So says the President of the National Academy of Sciences, Ralph Cicerone.

He spoke about the science of climate change at the Saint Louis Science Center this week.

And Cicerone told St. Louis Public Radio’s Véronique LaCapra that although the climate has changed in the past, this time is different.


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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.

A coalition of St. Louis City residents is asking the Environmental Protection Agency for more time to evaluate cleanup options for the Carter Carburetor Superfund Site on the city's north side.

The former gasoline and diesel carburetor manufacturing plant once owned by ACF Industries has dangerous levels of several toxic contaminants, including PCBs and asbestos.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it has decided to allow unrestricted commercial planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa.

The alfalfa has been genetically-engineered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, known commercially as Roundup.

Twenty-five years ago, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart shortly after liftoff, killing all seven crew members on board.

Here in St. Louis, the Challenger Learning Center is offering a variety of programs honoring the Challenger crew and their families.

An international team of researchers has sequenced the genomes of two species of orangutan.

Lead researcher Devin Locke of the Genome Center at Washington University said a primary motivation for studying the genes of orangutans is their close evolutionary relationship to humans.

“The lessons you learn from studying these species can be applied to understanding of our own evolution and the evolution of the human population as well,” Locke said.

There's a new arrival to the world, and St. Louis.

A black rhinoceros calf was born at the St. Louis Zoo on Jan. 14. The "little" male weighs in at 120.5 pounds.

According to a press release,  the Saint Louis Zoo’s black rhinos are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Black Rhino Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program to manage a genetically healthy population of black rhinos in North American zoos. Currently there are 60 black rhinos in 38 institutions.

The release also shares that this is the first black rhino calf to be born at the Zoo in 20 years.

Ameren Missouri and the U.S. Department of Justice are at odds over environmental concerns.

The federal government filed a lawsuit today against the energy company for violations of the Clean Air Act.

The suit alleges that Ameren made multi-million-dollar modifications to its coal-fired power plant in Festus (map image above), without installing required pollution controls and obtaining the necessary permits.

The government wants Ameren to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, to address any harm caused by the violations, and to pay civil penalties.

Ameren spokesperson Susan Gallagher says the company did nothing wrong.

"We believe that the position that the EPA is taking will impose significant costs on Ameren customers, especially in tough economic times."

Gallagher says the modifications at the Festus plant consisted of routine maintenance projects allowed under the Clean Air Act.

Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake.

The magnitude 7.0 tremor was the worst to hit the region in more than two centuries, killing over 200,000 people.

Today, more than a million Haitians are still living in tents and improvised shelters, without access to clean water and sanitation facilities.

Washington University professor Lora Iannotti was in Haiti on the day the earthquake struck. She has returned several times since then to continue her research in nutrition and public health.

Before going back to Haiti again last week, Iannotti spoke with St. Louis Public Radio’s Véronique LaCapra about health conditions in this struggling Caribbean nation.

LawPrieR|Flickr

The largest adult health study ever conducted in Missouri is underway across the state. The topic? Tobacco use and the diseases it causes.

The Missouri Foundation for Health is providing close to $2 million in funding for the telephone survey, which is expected to include more than 52,000 people.

Missouri Foundation for Health program officer Matthew Kuhlenbeck says the survey is a follow-up to a similar study conducted in 2007.

An exhibition on climate change has opened at the Saint Louis Science Center.

The exhibition stays away from political controversies, focusing on the science of climate change and its human and environmental implications.

Through text, diagrams, interactive stations, and videos, the exhibition shows how human activities are producing greenhouse gasses and contributing to climate change.

The St. Louis Science Center has named an interim CEO after its former CEO, Doug King, left for the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Dr. Philip Needleman is a former practicing scientist at Washington University in Pharmacology and later at Monsanto as Chief Scientist.

Most recently, Needleman was the interim president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

In a press conference this morning, the Danforth Foundation announced that it is closing after 84 years of operation at the end of this fiscal year, May 31, 2011.

The foundation's last act will be a $70 million donation to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

The last donation is the largest in foundation's history, which has contributed $226 million to the Plant Science Center over the years.

(via Flickr/jasonippolito)

Monsanto today announced progress on nine of its research projects on genetically-engineered crops.

Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Monsanto's vice president of biotechnology, Steve Padgette, said several collaborations with the Germany-based BASF Plant Science will be moving forward in 2011.

The Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London have completed the first comprehensive list of world plant species.

This year produced promising medical advances in the battle against Alzheimer's disease. First came word that scientists had come up with a new test for making more precise diagnoses of the disease. That news was followed this month by the announcement of a discovery of a relationship between an abnormal level of a plaque-forming substance in the brain and Alzheimer's.

Both developments are said to be important to long-term efforts to diagnose and treat Alzheimer's with new drugs even before the disease's symptoms become apparent in patients.

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