Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Eli Chen

Science Reporter

Eli Chen is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes to St. Louis after covering the eroding Delaware coast, bat-friendly wind turbine technology, mouse love songs and various science stories for Delaware Public Media/WDDE-FM. Before that, she corralled robots and citizen scientists for the World Science Festival in New York City and spent a brief stint booking guests for Science Friday’s live events in 2013. Eli grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where a mixture of teen angst, a love for Ray Bradbury novels and the growing awareness about climate change propelled her to become the science storyteller she is today. When not working, Eli enjoys a solid bike ride, collects classic disco, watches standup comedy and is often found cuddling other people’s dogs. She has a bachelor’s in environmental sustainability and creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has a master’s degree in journalism, with a focus on science reporting, from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

Ways to Connect

A view of Lake Taneycomo in February 2018.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 1:09 p.m. with comments from environmentalists A Missouri environmental advocacy group is suing the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that it has failed to prevent farm runoff from polluting Missouri’s lakes. 

The EPA last December approved a plan the Missouri Department of Natural Resources developed to monitor nutrient pollution in the state’s lakes. Excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus that largely come from farm runoff can threaten aquatic wildlife and public health. 

An illustration of astronauts at a lunar crater.
NASA

Space explorers could someday use the moon to mine for elements needed to make rocket fuel on the moon, making it a launchpad to other worlds. 

But first, scientists need to study the moon’s ice deposits. A team of astrophysicists at Washington University has received a $7 million agreement with NASA to study the origins of lunar ice, ammonia and methane over the next five years.

Landowners and environmentalists expressed opposing views on the Maryland Park Lake District TIF proposal at a packed public hearing on Nov. 21, 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

The Maryland Heights Tax Increment Financing Commission could soon approve a plan to use tax money to build pumps and levees in a frequently flooded area near the Missouri River. 

City officials and the urban planning group PGAV Planners propose to redevelop the Maryland Park Lake District. That’s a 2,215-acre agricultural area near Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park that is protected by the Howard Bend levees. 

An illustration of pollution, 2017
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Predominantly black neighborhoods in the St. Louis region where poor people live have a much higher exposure to carcinogenic air pollution than white middle-class neighborhoods, according to a study from Washington University. 

Researchers analyzed the Environmental Protection Agency’s data on risk of cancer from air pollutants, like ozone, among census tracts in the St. Louis metropolitan area. In the journal Environmental Research, scientists reported that the risk was five times higher for census tracts that had mostly black residents and high levels of poverty than for areas with white middle-class residents.

Solar panels are one upgrade business can make with PACE financing. The Fairview Heights City Council will consider tonight whether to allow the financing program in its city.
File photo| Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis officials released a plan late Monday to generate 100% of the city’s energy from wind and solar power by 2035. 

Environmental lawyers and advocates who worked on the report recommended making buildings more energy efficient, increasing solar panel installation and purchasing wind energy. 

Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, who sponsored the board’s 2017 clean energy resolution, said achieving the resolution’s goal would benefit the economy.

Environmental activist Patricia Schuba discusses proposed changes to the Franklin County zoning map at a library in Union on November 9, 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Franklin County is considering zoning changes that would allow large livestock operations to be built in areas where they haven’t been permitted before. 

The proposed revisions to the county’s zoning map have many residents worried that the changes could make it easier for corporations to build concentrated animal feeding operations. Such industrial livestock farms produce large amounts of animal waste, which can pollute the air and water for nearby residents.

EarthCam

Did you see the bright flash last night? Many home security cameras in the St. Louis area sure did

The annual Taurid meteor shower, known to burn more brightly than other meteor events, hit its peak on Monday night. Area residents blasted social media with doorbell camera videos and firsthand accounts about the noise it made.

The American Meteor Society received more than 120 reports about the sighting, from Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and other Midwestern and Western states. 

Artist Allana Ross and participants of her toxic waste site tours outside of the Bridgeton Landfill in September 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Before a group of young adults embarked on a tour of toxic waste sites in St. Louis, artist Allana Ross asked if anyone wanted a respirator. 

Twice a year since 2017, Ross dresses up as a park ranger and invites people to follow her on a “Toxic Mounds Tour” to locations in St. Louis County that have been contaminated by toxic waste. 

Some stops along the tour are sites where federal officials are cleaning up radioactive waste, like Coldwater Creek in Hazelwood. Others, like the Weldon Spring site in St. Charles, which contains nuclear waste, were converted into parks. 

This photo of the former Carter Carburetor plant was taken in Aug. 2011, prior to the start of the cleanup.
File Photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

After six years of building demolitions and excavations, workers have finished cleaning up the Carter Carburetor Superfund site in north St. Louis. 

The site, the former location of an oil and diesel carburetor manufacturing plant, closed in 1984. Nearly a decade later, the Environmental Protection Agency included it in the federal Superfund program, which investigates and cleans up hazardous waste sites. It left behind high levels of heavy metals and toxic chemicals, like PCBs, that are known to cause cancer.

Part of the $4.7 million sewer system upgrade involves removing illegal sewer bypasses, like the one pictured here.
Ted Heisel | Missouri Coalition for the Environment

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District is building a three-mile sewer line underneath the city of Ladue to address overflow problems in the area.

The $62.5 million project, which began in September, is being constructed along Deer Creek in St. Louis County. The work will help the utility comply with a $4.7 billion consent decree from a 2012 Clean Water Act lawsuit

Workers are building a 2.6-mile trunk sewer to help prevent sewer overflows when it rains, said Rebecca Losli, a program manager for MSD. 

St. Louis City Hall
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Operators of St. Louis buildings larger than 50,000 square feet will soon face penalties if they don’t report energy and water use to the city. 

The city’s benchmarking ordinance, which went into effect in 2017, requires owners of municipal and privately owned buildings to report energy and water consumption to the St. Louis Building Division. City officials will levy fines and deny occupancy permits to buildings that don’t comply within 60 days of receiving a warning letter. 

The penalties strengthen an ordinance that aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

The Missouri River in St. Charles County in September 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

When corn and soybean farmer Kenny Reichard stopped plowing some of his fields in northern Missouri in 1982, other farmers told him that it was a terrible decision that would lower his yields. 

“I’ve been told many times that no-till doesn’t work,” said Reichard, 62, who farms north of Brunswick in Chariton County. 

More than three decades later, state programs and agriculture initiatives are trying to encourage farmers to adopt no-till and other practices that reduce fertilizer runoff that contributes to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. While many farmers think such methods are expensive, they’re critical to cleaning up the Mississippi River basin. 

Robert Marquis, a professor emeritus of biology at University of Missouri-St. Louis, looks for caterpillars on oak trees.
Jose Fabrara

Many insects that feed on Missouri oak trees could be threatened by climate change, according to a study from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. 

Researchers from UMSL and several other universities looked at more than 250 insect species in Missouri, including leaf-tying caterpillars. Biologists reported in the journal Frontiers that the insects’ populations took major hits after mid-spring frosts and summer droughts, decreasing as much as 95% for some species.

The Loop Trolley currently operates Thursdays through Sundays, beginning at noon.
File Photo | Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The Loop Trolley could become insolvent unless it comes up with $200,000 in November, according to the company’s president. 

The Loop Trolley Co. requested $200,000 from the St. Louis County Transit Fund in September to keep the trolley running for the rest of the year, company President John S. Meyer Jr. said in an email Saturday. It also requested $500,000 to operate next year. 

If the company does not receive financial assistance, the trolley could stop operating as soon as Nov. 15, Meyer said. 

A worker installing a solar panel.
Ameren Missouri

Two recently launched programs in Missouri aim to lower cost barriers for residents, nonprofits and businesses that want access to solar energy and to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Ameren Missouri began taking applications today for its $14 million Neighborhood Solar program. Under the program, Ameren will pay the cost of installing and maintaining solar panels for up to seven schools, nonprofits or community organizations.

The Missouri Botanical Garden and Washington University also recently began offering St. Louis and St. Louis County residents discounted rates for installing panels on their properties.

Ameren's 2,400-megawatt plant near Labadie, Missouri, is the state's largest coal-fired power plant. It produces an average of 550,000 tons of coal ash each year.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

A federal judge on Monday ordered Ameren Missouri to install devices at its power plants in Festus and Labadie to remove harmful air pollutants. 

U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel ruled that Ameren has 90 days to apply for a Clean Air Act permit from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to install scrubbers at the Rush Island Energy Center in Festus.

An image of the night sky from Kirksville, Missouri.
Vayujeet Gokhale

A group of amateur astronomers has planted devices around Missouri to measure how much artificial lighting brightens the night sky. 

The Missouri chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association, formed last year, wants to capture data on light pollution. Satellite imaging shows artificial lighting at night has steadily increased in recent years

There appears to be a “tsunami” of nighttime artificial lighting observed in satellite images that’s increasing from the East Coast toward the middle of the country, said Don Ficken, the chapter’s president. 

Southern Illinois resident Colette Croissier, 11, attends the Global Climate Strike at St. Louis City Hall on September 20, 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Instead of attending school today, many St. Louis-area teenagers gathered at St. Louis City Hall to urge global leaders to act on climate change. 

The rally was part of the Global Climate Strike, a wave of demonstrations around the world led by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg to demand that governments transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The strike came ahead of the United Nations' Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday.

Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper director Rachel Bartels holds up a jar containing a sample of the Mississippi River near the Arch in Sept. 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri waters are polluted with microplastics, small pieces of plastic smaller than a pencil eraser. 

Microplastics can come from large pieces of plastic that degrade into smaller pieces and consumer products, like toothpaste and cosmetics, that contain microbeads. While research has shown that plastic pollution can threaten aquatic life, scientists are still trying to understand how microplastics could affect human health. 

Understanding the impact of microplastics starts by knowing how much is in local waters, said Rachel Bartels, co-founder of the nonprofit Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper.

A pond at the Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Environmental advocates say that the Environmental Protection Agency’s repeal of a Clean Water Act rule Thursday could raise the flood risk for Missouri residents.

The EPA established the Waters of the U.S. rule in 2015 to give federal protections to wetlands and small streams connected to major waterways in 22 states. Farmers, miners and business groups complained that the rule imposed undue economic burdens.

Rolling back the Obama-era rule eliminates protections for about 200,000 acres of wetlands behind levees in Missouri, said Maisah Khan, water policy director at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

Danforth Center researcher Malia Gehan next to a growth chamber containing plants in September 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and Washington University are studying the long-term consequences of exposing plants to high levels of carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Scientists expect levels of the greenhouse gas to continue to rise and worsen the effects of climate change over the next several decades if people do not reduce their use of fossil fuels and other natural resources.

A worker installing a solar panel.
Ameren Missouri

Ameren Missouri plans to install solar farms and storage facilities for three rural Missouri communities. 

If approved by the Missouri Public Service Commission, the $68 million project could provide solar power to as many as 10,000 residents in Utica and Green City, in northern Missouri, and Richwoods, 60 miles southwest of St. Louis. The three cities are at the end of 20-mile transmission lines and often experience long power outages.

St. Louis resident Erica Camp and her spent hen, Jo, at the Autism Behavioral Spectrum School in Ballwin, Missouri in August 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

At the Autism and Behavioral Spectrum School in Ballwin, Missouri, a woman with purple-streaked black hair walked in with a stroller containing a plump, white chicken. 

Erica Camp brought Jo the chicken to meet a few dozen children, who petted and held Jo in their laps. The visit is part of Camp’s efforts to spread word about her organization, Second Hen’d, which helps people adopt older chickens from commercial farms that don’t want them anymore. 

Jo, a spent hen from a commercial egg producer, is one of 180 hens that Camp has saved since starting Second Hen’d last year. Owning hens can be therapeutic, she said.

An Asian tiger mosquito
Centers for Disease Control

Biologists at Washington University have discovered that an invasive species of mosquito in the U.S. has adapted to colder climates by laying eggs that can survive harsh winters.

Researchers at Wash U’s Tyson Research Center and the University of Central Florida wanted to know how the Asian tiger mosquito can survive in northern areas like Iowa and New Jersey. The species first appeared in Texas in the mid-1980s and can transmit the West Nile, dengue, Zika and chikungunya viruses. 

A manure-to-energy operation at one of Smithfield Foods' farms in Missouri.
Smithfield Farms

Hog producer Smithfield Foods has completed a pipeline in Missouri to transport natural gas derived from pig manure. 

The company announced Monday that it finished building a pipeline that connects one of its farms to Milan, a city located 130 miles north of Columbia. Smithfield Foods also captures methane, or natural gas, at two other Missouri farms, near Bethany and Princeton.

Remnants of a former mining operation near Fredericktown at the Madison County Mines Superfund site in May 2017.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Mining Inc. plans to create up to 700 jobs by reopening a mine at a Superfund site in Fredericktown, Missouri. 

The company wants to extract cobalt from the Madison Mine, which it purchased last year. The mine has been inactive since the 1960s and is a part of the Madison County Mines Superfund site, an area contaminated by historic lead mining. 

Environmental Operations, a Missouri Mining subsidiary, plans to begin cleaning up the site this winter. Missouri Cobalt, another Missouri Mining subsidiary, could hire as many as 400 temporary workers and 250 permanent workers to rebuild and operate the mine. 

Richard Luttrell, owner of North Shore Marina in St. Charles, leases two parcels of flood-prone land from the county. Local officials demolished homes on the land through FEMA's voluntary buyout program.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

At the edge of an open lot in St. Charles, tiny blades of grass are beginning to sprout.

A neighborhood once stood here — but the homes are long gone.

They were among the more than 5,100 homes demolished in Missouri since 1990 through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s voluntary buyout program, which removes buildings from flood-prone land. After the homes are demolished, local governments are responsible for ensuring that no one rebuilds on the properties.

The West Lake Landfill, in the distance, sits adjacent to the Bridgeton Landfill.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

People who live near the West Lake Landfill want to know how they will be protected from exposure to radiation when the Environmental Protection Agency begins removing nuclear contamination from the Superfund site in three years.

At a meeting late Thursday, EPA officials sought to assure residents they would be protected during the excavation. The federal agency last fall decided it would remove 70% of the site’s radioactivity.

Several residents said that they would like to be relocated while the waste is being removed.

A male American black bear trapped near Warrenton, Missouri in 2016.
Missouri Department of Conservation

The number of black bears in Missouri has more than doubled in seven years, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. 

There are now as many as 840 black bears in the state, primarily in the Ozarks south of Highway 60. In recent years, there have been more sightings of black bears in other parts of Missouri, conservation officials say. 

The presence of black bears has particularly increased near Lake of the Ozarks and in southwest St. Louis County, said Laura Conlee, a furbearer biologist at the Department of Conservation.

A 14-pound rock collected from the Moon's Taurus-Littrow valley.
NASA Johnson Space Center

Geologists at Washington University will be among the first researchers to study lunar samples from the final crewed mission to the moon. 

The Apollo 17 mission in 1972 brought back moon rocks that have been kept in a vacuum-sealed tube for nearly five decades at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Nine research teams across the country will receive portions of the collection this fall. 

The samples will help scientists understand how the moon and the solar system formed, said Brad Jolliff, a lunar geochemist at Wash U.

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