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

Barbara Chicherio, of the Gateway Green Alliance, protests Monsanto outside the Civil Courts Building on Jan. 24, 2020.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A St. Louis circuit court judge has postponed a trial for a lawsuit that alleges the Monsanto weed killer Roundup caused people to develop cancer. 

Opening statements in the case were scheduled for Friday. But Judge Elizabeth Hogan continued the case indefinitely to give attorneys for Monsanto and four plaintiffs time to work on a settlement, according to a statement from Bayer.

Lumber collected from a building in the Vandeventer neighborhood on Nov. 21, 2019.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

For years, an empty three-story warehouse on the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and Whittier Street was just another eyesore in north St. Louis. 

But last summer, workers began to dismantle the 136-year-old building and saved about $250,000 worth of brick, lumber and other materials. The city had selected the former moving and storage warehouse as its first project to deconstruct, or take apart, a building to salvage its components. 

Unlike demolition, deconstruction saves valuable materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. It also doesn’t emit harmful pollutants into the surrounding community and provides more jobs because it requires more workers. 

A person testing out a cooling wearable device developed by University of Missouri engineers.
University of Missouri

Engineers at the University of Missouri-Columbia are developing a wearable device that could provide much-needed cooling on extremely hot days. 

The device is a small wired patch made out of a special type of porous plastic that doesn’t require any fans, pumps or electricity to cool the wearer. The technology reflects sunlight away from the body to reduce the person’s exposure to heat.

A photo of a yard the Environmental Protection Agency is removing lead pollution from.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Jefferson County health officials plan this year to increase testing for lead contamination in residential areas near where companies mined for heavy metals several decades ago. 

The county’s health department will work with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to educate residents about potential lead contamination in their yards. The agencies also are encouraging parents to have their children’s blood tested for lead.

May 29, 2019 A kayaker paddles down flooded Main Street west of Grafton. The river had reached 32 feet, on its way to a projected crest of 36.3 feet, which would be the second highest on record and less than two feet below the record set in 1993.
File Photo | Brent Jones | St. Louis Public Radio

Since last spring, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid nearly $70 million to Missouri residents who filed flood insurance claims.

Payments are likely to keep accumulating, as claims are still being processed and more flooding could occur this year. The National Weather Service predicts that above-average precipitation and abnormally moist ground conditions in the Upper Midwest this winter could increase the chance of major flooding in the St. Louis region in the spring. 

Floodwaters have swamped many homes and businesses in Missouri this year, including the Lewis and Clark Boat House and Museum in St. Charles, shown here in May. The Red Cross will host a series of events to help disaster victims apply for aid.
Red Cross of Missouri and Arkansas

An advisory group's recommendations to Gov. Mike Parson that state and federal agencies largely focus on repairing and strengthening levees will not do enough to protect communities from floods, environmentalists say.

Parson created the Flood Recovery Advisory Working Group last summer after record flooding along the state’s major rivers caused widespread damage to many Missouri communities. The group mostly consists of regulators, levee district representatives and members of agriculture associations.

There are no scientists and conservationists to acknowledge that climate change will worsen floods and promote long-term solutions to prevent flood damage, said Maisah Khan, water policy director at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

Mitch Leachman of the St. Louis Audubon Society spoke against a proposal to use tax increment financing to pay for pumps and levees in a low-lying area in Maryland Heights.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

The Maryland Heights TIF Commission has rejected a controversial plan to build pumps to drain a frequently flooded area near the Missouri River. 

Commission members voted 7-5 Friday against recommending that the Maryland Heights City Council approve the city’s plan to create a $151 million tax increment financing district. City officials proposed using the TIF district to pay for pumps and levees in a 2,409-acre area called the Maryland Park Lake District.

Area landowners supported the plan to build infrastructure to control flooding. Environmentalists opposed it, saying that it will lead to development that will worsen flooding in the St. Louis region.

The main levee in Winfield failed May 4, 2019, near the Pillsbury grain elevator on Pillsbury Road.
File Photo | Winfield Foley Fire Protection District

An advisory group Gov. Mike Parson appointed to study ways to address flooding has released a report that recommends state and federal agencies repair and strengthen levees, especially in rural areas hit severely by prolonged flooding this year. 

Record flooding in 2019 overtopped and breached dozens of levees along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, causing damage to many farms and communities. Some parts of western Missouri experienced flooding for as long as seven months.

An infrared photograph of an ancient Egyptian female mummy with tattoos on her neck.
Anne Austin

Five years ago, archaeologist Anne Austin stood in an ancient Egyptian tomb, staring at strange markings on the neck of a mummified woman. 

She placed a scanning device over the mummy to cast infrared light, an invisible light often used to detect heat. Almost like magic, several tattoos revealed themselves, Austin said. 

Since then, Austin has used infrared photography to study tattoos on seven Egyptian mummies.

A box turtle
Shawn Klein

On a chilly, gray morning in Forest Park, three St. Louis Zoo scientists switched on 20-inch-long antennas to begin their search for a turtle named Pumpkin. 

Pumpkin is one of nine box turtles in Forest Park that scientists have tagged with tracking devices. Researchers at the St. Louis Zoo and St. Louis University are tracking box turtles in the city’s largest park and in a remote area in southwest St. Louis County to study how they thrive in urban and rural environments.

Palmer and her colleagues at the zoo recently reported in the journal Frontiers that the three-toed box turtles in the park have a higher mortality rate than the ones they tracked in the woods near Washington University’s Tyson Research Center.

A robin in the snow.
Greg Munteanu | St. Louis Public Radio

An annual winter bird-watching event kicks off this weekend, giving people the chance to learn about birds and collect data for wildlife scientists.

Nature lovers in the St. Louis area will gather in parks and wildlife refuges to partake in the National Audubon Society’s 120th Christmas Bird Count from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5. There are 20 gatherings taking place in Missouri and almost 90 in Illinois.

An illustration of flooded homes.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Keeping vacant, flood-prone lands free of development could save taxpayers billions, according to conservation scientists. 

In a study published this week in the journal Nature Sustainability, the Nature Conservancy, University of Bristol and other institutions found that every $1 spent acquiring undeveloped properties in the 100-year floodplain — which have a 1% chance of flooding in any given year — returns $5 that would be spent on emergency services, flood insurance claims and other flood damage costs if those properties became developed.

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.

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