Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Many people could construe the tagline of Malcolm Gay’s recent book, “The Brain Electric: The Dramatic High-Tech Race to Merge Minds and Machines,” as a vision of dystopian cyborgs lording over the general public. In reality, the vision and the future of brain-machine interface is not quite so dramatic—or horrific.

The chlamydia bacteria, stained and viewed at 500 times.
National Cancer Institute | Dr. Lance Liotta Laboratory

When Faisal Khan took the job of St. Louis County's director of health earlier this year, one of his first calls was to Melba Moore, St. Louis' new health director. He asked for he help to tackle regional problems like sexually transmitted diseases.

“She said yes; let’s do this,” Khan said. "Let’s start looking at issues such as STDs, violence prevention, obesity and poverty alleviation."

A silent witness display created by the Violence Prevention Center, to represent victims murdered in counties they serve. The shields on the chests tell who the victim was and their story, provided by family members.
provided by the Violence Prevention Center of Southwestern Illinois

Domestic violence shelters in Illinois have spent the past months dipping into savings and cutting back staff. At least one has closed its doors to women and children. With the legislature unlikely to pass a budget anytime soon, service providers are looking to an uncertain future.  

“We’re running on a very skeleton crew,” said Debbie Sander, the executive director of Phoenix Crisis Center in Granite City. “We’ve not replaced staff members, due to the uncertainty of the finances.”

Public health emergencies can range from weather-related emergencies to disease outbreaks to civil unrest.
Robert Boston | Washington University

The St. Louis region faces a wide range of potential public health crises, including natural disasters like tornados and floods, infectious disease epidemics and civil unrest.

Our ability to respond to such emergencies will be the focus of a conference on Thursday hosted annually by Washington University’s Institute for Public Health.

A vendor sells vegetables from Ferguson's EarthDance Farms at a weekly farmer's market.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Students at Ferguson-Florissant schools will see more locally grown produce in their lunches this year, after winning a Farm to School grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  

The grant adds $91,500 to an existing program that works like a small business: The district hires high schoolers to prepare produce from local farms for the district’s schools to serve during student lunches. Shifts begin after school hours, and at $10 an hour, wages are competitive with other after school jobs.

Meera Nagarajan | Sauce Magazine

Maybe you’ve recently patronized a restaurant that lists the farms their food came from on the menu. Or maybe you read that Vanity Fair article lambasting chefs who prioritize where food comes from over taste. But is that what the farm-to-table movement is really about in St. Louis? On this month’s Sound Bites, St. Louis Public Radio’s partnership with Sauce Magazine, we get to the bottom of it.

Our guests:

Ameren's coal-fired power plant in Labadie
Véronique LaCapra / St. Louis Public Radio

The Sierra Club is appealing to Ameren shareholders in an attempt to prompt the utility to move away from coal-based energy.

The organization has submitted a resolution to shareholders calling for at least 30-percent wind and solar sourced energy by 2030 and at least 70-percent by 2050.

Mark Regester

When Temple Grandin, famed autism activist and professor of animal science at Colorado State University, was 13 she was employed by a freelance seamstress to do sewing projects. When she was 15, she cleaned 8 horse stalls every day. By the time she finished college, she had carpentry work, sign painting, and farm management under her belt.

Katie Dorr, 29-year-old a second-year nursing student, pays $125 a month for the least expensive health insurance she could find. Enrollment is required for her to continue her studies.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

In this season of open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, there’s a group of people who might be uninsured: nursing students.

Adrian Clark | Flickr

The state of Missouri is on the line to repay about $100 million in to the federal government, unless the state’s Department of Social Services wins a lawsuit that’s brewing in district court.

The details are a bit wonky, so here are a few items to help outline the basics.

e-MagineArt.com | Flickr

It’s commonly understood that prescription painkillers are a gateway drug to heroin—both drugs are in the opiate family and provide similar highs. But new research from Washington University School of Medicine is redefining what that means.

Rather than switching from prescription painkillers to heroin, the Washington University researchers have found that many people who try heroin also continue to abuse prescription opiates.

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide.
National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

Scientists have identified a chemical that could one day be used in eye drops to treat cataracts — potentially eliminating the need for expensive surgery, the only treatment option currently available.

The research team was led by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor but included researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle and Washington University in St. Louis. The group found that eye drops made with a type of steroid could partially reverse cataracts in mice.

Maliyah Isadora, 2 months, and her mother Courtney at their home in Florissant. Maliyah was just four pounds at birth, so the family enrolled in a program to receive home visits from nurses.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

In the zip codes surrounding St. Louis’ nationally-ranked children’s hospitals, a disproportionate number of babies never make it to their first birthday.

North of the Delmar Loop, in 63113, the infant mortality rate is 20 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to the most recent five-year averages kept by the state. That’s more than three times the U.S. rate, and on par with countries like Nicaragua and the Marshall Islands. But just a few miles away from 63113’s empty cribs, less than four out of 1,000 babies born in the Clayton's 63105 zip code die in their first year.

St. Louis International Film Festival

For years, Dr. Susan Mackinnon, a professor and plastic surgeon with Washington University, has been working to restore movement in paralyzed limbs through a specialized peripheral-nerve-transfer surgery. Now, her work is coming to light through a documentary screening at the St. Louis International Film Festival next week: “A Spark of Nerve.”

An underground fire has been smoldering in the Bridgeton Landfill for five years, about 1,000 feet away from tons of nuclear waste in the adjacent West Lake Landfill.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Radio has been following developments at a landfill complex in St. Louis County, where for five years an underground fire has been smoldering at the Bridgeton Landfill, about 1,000 feet away from radioactive waste at the adjacent West Lake Landfill.

The situation is unique, and we thought it merited national attention. You can listen to our national update below, or read the story at npr.org.

Dean Puckett (left), a federal navigator, and Ashlei Howard, a certified application counselor, sit in their new offices at the St. Louis Effort for AIDS just two days before the start of open enrollment season.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

As the third year of Healthcare.gov gets underway, an estimated 90,000 people in the St. Louis region are still uninsured and eligible to buy health insurance on the federal marketplace, according to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. 

Effort for AIDS counselors like Sade Singleton have spent the past few months leading up to enrollment doing outreach and health literacy presentations throughout the region. Last year, the nonprofit helped about 700 people sign up for health insurance in St. Louis. 

The utilitarian raingardens capture stormwater run-off, removing silt and pollutants. The shade structure adds elegance.
Robert W. Duffy | St. Louis Public Radio

Anyone who’s a frequent driver, cyclist or pedestrian along Forest Park Avenue has an idea what the research and development phenomenon called Cortex looks like – at least an imposing architectural chunk of it.

As Cortex president and CEO Dennis Lower notes, there’s much, much more than the average passerby might imagine in the district, more than what’s presented by the modern building at 4320 Forest Park Ave. with the tilted glass façade and, across Boyle from it, the skeleton of a new building rising on the corner.

Since this map was created, EPA contractors have detected more radioactive waste than what is shown in pink, including some along the southern edge of OU-1 in what is called the "muffin top" of the north quarry of the Bridgeton Landfill.
Debbie Kring | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Representatives from two federal agencies took heated criticism over the management of a former dumpsite for radioactive material and a nearby underground smolder at the Bridgeton Landfill on Monday night, as they tried to assure residents that their data suggests the surrounding communities are safe.

The Armenian viper is one of 30 endangered species of amphibians and reptiles in Armenia. A new crowd-funding campaign aims to start a new conservation center to save them.
Ray Meibaum | Saint Louis Zoo

The country of Armenia may be getting its first conservation center for reptiles and amphibians thanks to a crowd-funding campaign launched by the Saint Louis Zoo.

A flu vaccine gets placed inside a needle.
Daniel Paquet | Flickr

Shots aren’t for everyone, but the manufacturer of a nasal spray version of the vaccine experienced a technical issue early in the season that caused shipping delays.

At Forest Park Peds in St. Louis, office manager Gail McCarthy says the clinic has been receiving just a percentage of the FluMist vaccines they’d originally ordered.

Medical professionals raise hands during a room-wide survey of whether they have provided care to someone they knew or believed was a victim of human trafficking.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

A young woman comes into an emergency room, trailed by a much older boyfriend who answers questions for her. A man with a broken ankle and no identification asks a doctor to promise the hospital will not tell his employer that he sought medical care.  

This radiation warning sign is one of many posted on the chain link fence surrounding part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.
Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 5 p.m., Oct. 20 with new information -- St. Louis Public Radio is updating this FAQ to describe what we know — and don't know — about the Bridgeton and West Lake landfills. We'll continue to add to it based on your input and as new information becomes available.

In March 2014, we first published this story to help answer some key questions about the situation at this complex of landfills in north St. Louis County.

A lot has happened since then — but in many ways, not much has changed.

The robot Max, in action at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville.
Nassim Benchaabane| St. Louis Public Radio

A whirr, a few beeps and an intense, sustained flash of light. After five minutes, the surfaces in one part of a hospital room are completely disinfected, thanks to a robot named Max.

It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. In fact, Max sort of looks like R2D2’s bulkier, germophobic cousin. It’s one of two robots (the other is named “Zappy”) recently purchased by St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville to combat “superbugs,” a term for bacteria that have evolved to be resistant to antibiotics.

http://kathrineswitzer.com/press-room/photos/
AP Images, Kathrine Switzer

The first woman to officially enter and run the Boston Marathon, in 1967, did so under the gender-neutral entry “K.V. Switzer.” When race officials found out she was a woman, one race director physically attacked her for wearing an official bib number in the race. That moment was caught on camera and made headlines around the world, later becoming one of Time-Life’s “100 Photos that Changed the World.” Her full name is Kathrine Switzer.

A water stain on a basement wall.
provided by EPA

Indoor mold can pose a health hazard for people with allergies, asthma or lung illnesses. But there are few regulations for what St. Louis area landlords are required to do about it.

Lee Camp, an attorney for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, estimates that a quarter of his housing cases involve disputes with a tenant and their landlord over mold.   

This radiation warning sign is one of many posted on the chain link fence surrounding part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.
Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio

A federal report shows no off-site human health risk from radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill.

At the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, reviewed existing data on groundwater, air, and soil contamination at and around the landfill in Bridgeton.

Overall, the assessment found no radiation risk to surrounding communities, but did caution that workers at the landfill need to be protected from inhaling radioactive dust and radon gas.

This photo taken in February of the Bridgeton Landfill's south quarry shows the plastic cap and several gas extraction wells.
Katelyn Mae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Bridgeton and West Lake Landfill owner Republic Services is calling into question the validity of one of the reports released last month by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.

A deposition given this Wednesday and Thursday by the report's lead author seems to raise doubts about whether or not the underground fire at the Bridgeton Landfill is really moving toward nearby radioactive waste.

UMSL planetarium in action
Timothy Wombles

The University of Missouri-St. Louis is opening a newly renovated planetarium for students and the public. Astronomy professor Erika Gibb says the renovated facility is even a little more cutting edge than the Saint Louis Science Center’s planetarium, at least for now.

(Adam Allington/St. Louis Public Radio)

Drought conditions across portions of Missouri are having both a positive and negative effect on crops grown in the Show-Me State.

The lack of rain over much of Missouri has not harmed the state's corn crop and is enabling farmers to get heavy equipment into the fields for harvest.

Community activist Dawn Chapman speaks to an overflow crowd at the John Calvin Presbyterian Church about problems at the West Lake and Bridgeton landfills.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 1:00 a.m. after the landfill meeting - Hundreds of area residents jammed into the John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton Thursday night for a meeting about two St. Louis County landfills.

Many people at the meeting had never heard of the Bridgeton and West Lake landfills until last week, when St. Louis County made public an emergency response plan describing how it would respond if an underground fire at Bridgeton reaches radioactive waste at West Lake.

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