Health, Science, Environment | St. Louis Public Radio

Health, Science, Environment

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.

The city of St. Louis alone contains roughly 2,000 miles worth of sidewalks, which vary widely in design and overall condition.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In an age of crumbling infrastructure across the U.S., sidewalks have been no exception to the pattern of decay. The city of St. Louis alone is home to roughly 2,000 miles worth of sidewalks, and both the physical condition and suitability of those streetside pathways vary widely.

David Newburger, St. Louis’ commissioner on the disabled, thinks about sidewalks quite a bit. He notes that he’s old enough to remember when curb cuts — sloped curb faces that are particularly critical for someone using a wheelchair — were few and far between. These days, Newburger says, a lot of effort goes into the design of new sidewalks to ensure that they are safe and passable for everyone, including pedestrians with disabilities.

St. Louis Wildlife Project

There are roughly 2.8 million people living in greater St. Louis, many of whom would be surprised to know that they share the space with a good variety of wildlife.

The St. Louis Wildlife Project now has four seasons of data that they hope will give insight into how wildlife occupy and utilize the region’s urban spaces. For the past year, they’ve collected images from 34 motion-activated cameras planted in parks and green spaces across St. Louis. They’ve spotted foxes, turkeys, river otters and even a couple bobcats. 

Dressbarn is one of the latest traditional retailers to close up shop at the Quincy Mall, as seen in this photo from Dec. 2019. Property owners are looking to tenants such as clinics and spas to fill the vacant spaces.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

In August 2018, the Quincy Mall was in crisis. A few years earlier, JCPenney, one of the mall’s three large department store anchors, had closed. That month, the two remaining stores, Sears and Bergner’s, closed within weeks of each other.

“It left us with just this huge big-box vacancy,” said Mike Jenkins, the property manager at the 500,000-square-foot mall in Quincy, Illinois. 

The loss of such major tenants has been a death sentence for many malls. But the shopping center had a stroke of luck. The same time the department stores closed, one of the small city’s two large medical providers was looking for a space to house a planned outpatient surgery clinic.

St. Louis County Council established its own prescription drug monitoring program in 2016 to fill the void left by the absence of an official statewide program. Seventy-five jurisdictions across the state now participate in the program.
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Public health officials in St. Louis are expanding their efforts to reduce opioid addiction statewide.

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health unveiled new online resources Wednesday designed to connect doctors with information on opioids, pain management and substance abuse. The toolkit is the latest addition to the county’s prescription drug monitoring program, which was established in the absence of a statewide program. 

Volunteers with the Salam Clinic hold proclamation that declares Jan. 19, 2020 as Salam Clinic Day in St. Louis County by County Executive Dr. Sam Page.
Fatima Ahmad

Every Saturday, a cohort of physicians carves time out of busy schedules in an effort to fill a gap for health care for people in the St. Louis region. 

Started by members of the Muslim Community Services of St. Louis in 2008, the Salam Clinic is a model of interfaith charity. The initiative was simple: provide free medical care to the uninsured and underinsured. Doctors of various religious backgrounds gladly signed on, including the Deaconess Nurse Ministry.

The first clinic opened in north St. Louis at Lane Tabernacle Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. The second opened its doors in 2013 in Ferguson at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ. Last November, Salam opened its third location at Epiphany United Church of Christ in St. Louis’ Benton Park neighborhood. And this Sunday, the nonprofit’s first Salam Psychiatry Clinic will open at its Ferguson location. 

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. 

Advancements at Missouri S&T could make charging electric cars, like this Tesla at a charging station in Rolla, cheaper, faster and safer.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — As more industries, including transportation, are looking to electricity to deliver more power, Missouri University of Science and Technology wants to help meet that demand.

The school is leading a research effort to develop the equipment needed to deliver voltages that are up to 100 times what are found in the average household outlet.

“The goal is to figure out how to deliver high voltage cheaply and safely,” said Mehdi Ferdowsi, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Missouri S&T.

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.

The Rev. Traci Blackmon of Christ The King United Church of Christ, at a press conference Saturday, Jan. 19.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

More than 11,000 St. Louis-area families will learn this week that their medical debt has been paid, thanks to donations from local churches.

United Church of Christ congregations and the Deaconess Foundation announced Saturday they had purchased $12.9 million in medical debt for a fraction of the cost. They worked with the New York-based nonprofit RIP Medical Debt, which used the donations to purchase the debt from collectors.

Church leaders used Saturday’s announcement at Christ the King Church in Black Jack to make the argument that medical debt is a symptom of a system that devalues poor people and people of color — and call for political action.

Dierdre Wortham relaxes while members of her family play around her. Her son, Aiden (second from left) had to forgo treatment after the state removed them from Missouri's Medicaid program.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

The number of people enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program reached a five-year low in December, falling to 846,554. That’s 130,000 fewer people — including 100,000 children — on the rolls since January 2018.

Democratic lawmakers and other critics said the large drop in enrollment is a sign that the state agency in charge of administering the program is culling people unfairly and leaving them without needed medical services.

The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that includes meat, dairy, eggs and low-carb vegetables.
Ted Eytan | Flickr

A few weeks ago on St. Louis on the Air, we learned about a brand-new medical device that allows users to measure nutritional ketosis with a breathalyzer. Nutritionists say they’ve witnessed the reemergence of the keto diet as a means for weight loss in the past few years.

Both during and after that segment aired, we received a lot of questions about the keto diet, as well as some concern that this may be an unhealthy choice for some people. So, we looked into it on Thursday’s show with people who follow the latest research on the topic.

Siteman Cancer Center

Siteman Cancer Center’s newest location will bring access to new treatments and clinical trials to the Metro East.

The cancer center's Shiloh, Illinois, location began accepting patients this week. As a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, Siteman’s facility will go beyond traditional treatment and allow patients to receive experimental procedures such as immunotherapy and genomics, Siteman Cancer Center Director Tim Eberlein said.

From left, Ness Sandoval and Shawn Steadman
Emily Woodbury | St. Louis Public Radio

Vast wildfires in Australia, California and elsewhere continue to have wide-sweeping impacts, testing the limits of firefighters on the front lines and presenting new challenges for experts in all sorts of sectors. At St. Louis University’s Geospatial Institute — also known as GeoSLU — researchers are using remotely sensed images and spatial analysis to extend our understanding of these disasters and others.

The geospatial technology helps them predict wildfires as well as map the extent and severity of wildfires after they have occurred.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske led a conversation about the difference this research can make. She talked with Ness Sandoval, associate professor of sociology at St. Louis University and an associate director of the Geospatial Institute, and with Shawn Steadman, director of SLU’s emergency management program.

Dave Gullic, who works with the DNR's water quality monitoring section, nets a fish in Jefferson City's Binder Lake. The department samples fish tissues for mercury, as part of a monitoring process required by the EPA.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has identified a new batch of lakes and streams that do not meet water quality standards.

The state agency added 60 water bodies to this year’s draft list of impaired waters, including several in the greater St. Louis region. Many of the listed water bodies had high concentrations of bacteria or algae, often linked to runoff from cities, towns and farms.

Children Under Fire is a series examining how communities are affected when children are killed by gun violence.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Foundation for Health and a national think tank are commissioning $1.5 million in grants for researchers to study the causes and effects of Missouri’s gun violence epidemic.

Foundation representatives hope the research will better inform policymakers on the best ways to prevent people from dying, said Jessi LaRose, a senior strategist at the St. Louis-based nonprofit. 

The foundation aims to fund studies about urban gun violence, rural gun fatalities, accidental shooting deaths and suicides. It also seeks research on why so many black men are dying from gun violence and the effectiveness of programs aiming to curb gun deaths, such as St. Louis’ Cure Violence anti-homicide initiative, approved by the Board of Aldermen last year.

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.

Dr. Mai Vo (left) and Dr. Mimi Vo (right) are physicians with different takes on Missouri's new medical cannabis law. They are also sisters.
EMILY WOODBURY | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

Thousands of Missouri residents have received certification cards for medical marijuana, and dispensaries are gearing up to begin sales of the product later this year, likely in the spring. 

Physicians have the ability to prescribe medical marijuana to patients via the state’s certification form, although they are not obligated to do so.

On Friday's St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske spoke with two physicians, who are also sisters, to get a sense of why they react differently when patients request their signatures on medical marijuana certification forms.

Two Australians created Mental Health First Aid  in 2001. Since then, millions of people have taken classes in how to help someone in a mental health crisis.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

If a woman at a restaurant chokes on a chicken bone, millions of people know to wrap their arms around her abdomen and dislodge it, thanks to countless classes that teach first aid. 

But if she starts hyperventilating during a panic attack, many people wouldn’t know how to help. If she stops showering or coming to work, her friends might not know what to do. 

To teach people how to respond, St. Louis organizations have started training the public in mental health first aid, which aims to offer immediate help for people experiencing emotional and mental health emergencies. It’s the same idea as traditional first aid, except that the wounds treated are emotional. 

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. 

Auarium collage of images
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station opened with a big splash on Christmas Day. Thousands of area residents have been streaming through its gates in the two weeks since, and aquarium staff have had to turn some families away due to sellout crowds.

For executive director Tami Brown, that's been the only downside of an otherwise successful launch of the new downtown destination. Many visitors have expressed excitement about their experiences, staff have been enthusiastic about their interactions with visitors and animals, and the marine species that  now call the aquarium home seem to be adapting well.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Brown joined host Sarah Fenske for a deeper dive into the new activity at Union Station. Joining the conversation was St. Louis Aquarium curator Aaron Sprowl, who discussed the wide-ranging creatures and their transition to a new space. The segment included an audio tour of the aquarium, first impressions from children and adults alike, and plenty of questions from listeners who called into the show.

Philip Bayly, a mechanical engineer at Washington University, holds a model of a human brain on January 1, 2020. Bayly is part of a team of engineers and doctors working to better understand brain injuries.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Philip Bayly has spent years trying to figure out the best way to jiggle a brain. 

The mechanical engineer is part of a team of researchers at Washington University studying how a jolt to the head can shake the brain — the kind of injury a football player suffers when crashing into an opponent. Using a specially designed device that vibrates volunteers’ heads, they hope to better understand the effects of repeated brain injuries.

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.

Image of cliffs by Andy Magee
Andy Magee

A year ago this week, Andy Magee set out on a 365-day quest to visit every single location within the U.S. National Park System. His initial travels happened to coincide with a government shutdown in January 2019 that made access to some parks difficult, but Magee didn’t let those early, unexpected challenges stop him.

Now, after having spent the holidays exploring various parks in Hawaii, the local artist and co-owner of Cioci’s Picture Mart in Kirkwood has brought his journey to a close. On Tuesday, he checked the final site off his to-visit list: the Gateway Arch.

He joined host Sarah Fenske on St. Louis on the Air Friday to look back on the highlights and lessons from his trip.

Saint Louis University School of Medicine recently was taken off probation by the nation's accrediting body.
Wikimedia Commons

St. Louis University is starting a program to train doctors to treat patients with addictions.

The university’s school of medicine will operate the state’s first addiction medicine fellowship. 

Fellowship doctors will compete rotations at the city’s hospitals, clinics and community health centers. They'll also learn how to treat addiction in pregnant patients and newborns and receive training in telemedicine.

“It’s exciting, because addiction psychiatry has been around since 1991, but addiction medicine now is open to any specialty in medical education,” said Dr. Fred Rottnek, a SLU family medicine professor and director of the fellowship.

January 2, 2020 Jill B. Delston
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Why do so many physicians require women to have a Pap smear and a pelvic exam before writing a one-year prescription for birth control? Most of us never think about that question. It is what it is.

But Jill B. Delston isn’t like most of us. She’s a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She gets curious about things that we shrug off as the way things are.

Delston’s new book, "Medical Sexism," argues that linking these invasive procedures to birth control access is a form of medical sexism. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, she joined us to discuss her thesis — and argued that physicians need to follow their own guidelines, which hold that Pap smears should only be given every three to five years. 

More and more young people are vaping, which has led states like Vermont and Illinois to tax vaping products. That’s unlikely to happen in Missouri. 

In 2014, Missouri lawmakers decided that vaping products and alternative nicotine products shouldn’t be taxed or regulated as tobacco products, part of a bill that banned selling vaping products to minors.

While a couple of bills introduced for this year’s session deal with vaping, none add a tax and the governor hasn’t indicated support for a tax. Illinois, meanwhile, expects to get about $15 million in 2020 due to a new 14.5% tax.

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.

Pages