Health, Science, Environment | St. Louis Public Radio

Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

Pallets full of sandbags that stayed dry during the floods sit in the parking lot of City Hall in Valley Park in January 2016.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated May 1 with new road closure information - Rising rivers in the St. Louis area that are already threatening homes and businesses will also cause major traffic headaches for at least the rest of this week.

More than 70 roads have been closed in the area due to engorged rivers and streams. (See a complete list here.) Officials say more will be added to the list this week. That includes Interstate 44, which will close in both directions at Route 141 Monday night. Missouri Department of Transportation engineer  Tom Blair says it will mark the third spot on the interstate to close since the heavy rains hit the state this past weekend.

Jamie Young and her daughter Maya, 3, listen to a speaker during a demonstration outside of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt's office in Clayton. The group delivered petitions in support of Planned Parenthood.  Feb 23 2016
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Clinics that provide contraception and checkups for about 70,000 uninsured Missouri women may lose state funding next fiscal year, if they give patients information about abortion.  

Mary Miller, Anne Barton-Veenkant and Chloe Jackson joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss this weekend's People's Climate March.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

This weekend, St. Louis will play host to a local People’s Climate March. The event is spearheaded by a new local grassroots group called 350 STL, which is part of an international organizing collective called 350.org.

St. Louis Public Radio's Science and Environment Reporter Eli Chen is part of the organizing effort to bring The Story Collider to St. Louis next week.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Next Tuesday, St. Louis will play host to Story Collider, a traveling storytelling show that records stories about science.  The event’s theme is “Eclipse” and will feature five storytellers from the St. Louis region, in partnership with the 38th annual St. Louis Storytelling Festival, which takes places May 3-6.

Geneticist Michael White, right, visits with postdoctoral researcher Max Staller as he prepares samples in the lab. White is waiting to hear if the NIH will fund a proposal to start his own lab.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

As Congress faces a deadline to pass a stopgap budget for the rest of the federal fiscal year, scientists in research hubs like St. Louis are paying close attention.

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 St. Louis region has long grappled with high rates of sexually transmitted infections, but an uptick in syphilis among women of child-bearing age is drawing the concern of public health officials.

In Missouri, 10 cases of congenital syphilis — when the infection is transmitted in the womb — were reported last year. That’s up from just two cases in 2015. Syphilis is treatable with penicillin, but can cause miscarriages, stillbirth and serious health problems if pregnant women do not receive medical care quickly. Men, however, make up the vast majority of cases.

In the current debates over health care, one topic rarely gets mentioned: dental health benefits. That’s because dental health has historically been separated from the rest of medicine. But today, that separation leaves many Americans with no way to prevent or treat debilitating dental health problems.

Author Mary Otto tells the story of the rampant disparities in dental health in the United States and how those play into other disparities of race, class and income in her new book, Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America.


A three-week-old Mexican gray wolf pup is examined by scientists at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka. The pup was born from artificial insemination that used thawed semen.
Endangered Wolf Center

The future is looking brighter for the endangered Mexican gray wolf, as scientists have announced the birth of the first pup of the species to be born from artificial insemination that used frozen semen. 

There are 130 Mexican gray wolves that remain in the wild, largely in Arizona and New Mexico. Some live at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, where the new pup was born. In collaboration with the Saint Louis Zoo, scientists at the center have been collecting and freezing semen from endangered wolves for more than 20 years.

Stephen Cummings | Flickr

Updated at 11:27 p.m. April 24 with the council's decisions — Two bills that would have established a drug monitoring database in Jefferson County failed during a Monday night meeting of the County Council.

The council heard two competing bills that would have allowed the county to join the local prescription tracking system set up by St. Louis County. But a disagreement over how long a database could keep Jefferson County data, however, likely derailed the whole process, even though council members appear to agree that the rising rate of opioid-related deaths is unacceptable and a prescription drug monitoring database could help prevent overdoses.

Missouri Treasurer Eric Schmitt announced April 24 as the start date for the MO ABLE program, which creates savings accounts for people living with disabilities.
MO ABLE | Facebook

A Missouri program that sets up savings accounts for individuals living with disabilities or their families begins Monday.

The Missourians Achieving a Better Life Experience, or MO ABLE, accounts can be used to pay for qualified expenses related to living with disabilities and special needs. People can contribute up to $14,000 a year, and those who do get a tax deduction of up to $8,000, or $16,000 if married and filing jointly. Earnings in the savings accounts also are not subject to federal income tax. 

Companion Kombucha is a brand of fermented tea that is manufactered in St. Louis.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

At first, it might be hard to understand the appeal of kombucha, a food trend that has made its way from the coasts to St. Louis. A fermented tea drink that’s made using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast sitting atop brewed tea that often tastes like vinegar? Sounds iffy.

March for Science posters for sale at Firecracker Press.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

“SCIENCE IS REAL,” declares a stack of printed signs in a St. Louis shop. “Reject Alt-Facts,” reads a hand-drawn poster shared on a Facebook page. Another photo shows a purple Easter egg emblazoned with a diagram of an atom.

For many scientists planning to participate in the St. Louis March for Science on Saturday, activism is an unfamiliar role. But proposals by the Trump administration to slash federal funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health and federal science programs have been too much to accept, organizers said.

Mike Morrison talks with two staff members at Bridgeway's detox center in St. Louis.
File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri plans to use a new $10 million federal grant to improve access to opioid addiction medication.

A main focus of the grant, announced Wednesday by Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, will be increasing the number of doctors and nurse practitioners licensed to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication that reduces opioid addiction cravings, according to project manager Rachel Winograd.

An adult female bluebird caught by a Southeast Missouri State University researcher.
Kathy Hixson

It’s been nearly 300 years since lead was first discovered in Missouri.

But the element's important role in the state's economy may come at a price to another natural resources. Scientists are planning to study the health effects of lead on local songbird populations.

The research, conducted by biologists at Southeast Missouri State University and the University of Missouri-Columbia, will take place in the Southeast Missouri Lead District, which contains the world’s largest deposits of galena, an important source of lead.

St. Louis-based Express Scripts has announced a new initiative to combat opioid abuse. June 7, 2017
Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri will receive $10 million in federal grant money to help combat a growing opioid painkiller crisis, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt announced Wednesday.

It comes as the Missouri General Assembly is attempting to set up the nation's last prescription drug monitoring program, though the measures have hit several roadblocks.

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.

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