Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

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.

Type 2 diabetes – the kind related to obesity and an unhealthy diet – gets a lot of attention these days. But there’s another, less common, form of the disease – type 1 – that can also lead to life-threatening complications.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Véronique LaCapra takes us behind the scenes at a local hospital, for the transplant operation that got one St. Louis-area woman off dialysis, and made her diabetes-free.

A baby kangaroo has begun poking her head out from her mother's pouch at the Saint Louis Zoo.

The female Matschie's tree kangaroo was born six months ago. Hidden in the pouch, she has grown from the size of a lima bean to the size of a small cat.

This diagram is an excerpt of “figure 1” from Ameren’s “Detailed Site Investigation,” showing the location of the company’s proposed coal ash landfill.
Ameren Missouri

Ameren operates a coal-fired power plant in Labadie, Mo., about 35 miles west of St. Louis, and wants to build a 400-acre landfill near the plant to store coal waste.

Some Franklin County residents are definitely not happy about a possible landfill in the Missouri River floodplain and the effects it might have on drinking water.

Tonight they will once again be voicing their opposition to proposed regulations that would allow Ameren to go ahead with their plan.

Chad Williams, Saint Louis University Medical Center

St. Louis is joining the National Children's Study, the largest long-term study of child health ever conducted in the United States.

The study will follow 100,000 children nationwide from before birth to age 21.

Local study leader Louise Flick of Saint Louis University's School of Public Health says more than 4,000 children from St. Louis City, Jefferson County, and southwestern Illinois will be asked to participate.

Judy Schmidt, James Gathany / CDC

Saint Louis County is seeing a surge in cases of pertussis.

More commonly known as “whooping cough,” pertussis is highly contagious, spreading through the air via small droplets when infected people cough, sneeze or talk.

One hundred and eighty-five cases have been reported in the county so far this year – two-thirds of them in the past six weeks.

(Flickr Creative Commons User Mindy.Kotaska)

Monsanto's latest lawsuit is no small potatoes - in fact, it's sugar beets.

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