Health, Science, Environment | St. Louis Public Radio

Health, Science, Environment

Five Illinois residents have died so far this year after vaping. Two of those people have died within the last week, while public health investigators have struggled to find what’s behind the spike in illnesses.

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. 

Josh Graciano | Flickr

A Missouri appeals court has ordered the natural gas company Spire to pay customers at least $4 million in reimbursements after it improperly charged them for pipe repairs.

In a trio of decisions, judges from the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals ruled the utility improperly used surcharges to fund infrastructure improvements that were not eligible for those fees.

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.

In the spring of 1989, Missouri lawmakers were motivated to figure out how climate change would affect the state’s economy, political future and social capital. 

A year after California started looking into climate change, the Missouri General Assembly created a commission of 14 experts and politicians to study the issue and come up with solutions. The result was more than 100 policy suggestions, covering everything from the use of solar and wind energy to transportation and teaching about climate change.

Three decades later, experts say Missouri hasn’t achieved its goals. 

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.

Ella Olsson | Flickr

In the new Netflix documentary "The Game Changers," a former team physician for the St. Louis Rams and Cardinals challenges what he refers to as a “locker-room mythology about meat, protein and strength.

“The attitude of most athletes for many years was that you had to eat meat to get protein, [that] we need that protein to get big and strong, and again, that meat was the best source. But that’s clearly just not true,” Dr. James Loomis said Friday on St. Louis on the Air.

“There are many, many highly successful athletes, both in the strength world … but also endurance athletes, who really thrive on a plant-based diet.”

A pesticide storage tank deposited by floodwaters along Interstate 29 in northwest Missouri, near the Iowa border.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Floodwaters carved a path of devastation through the Midwest this year — and carried hundreds of storage tanks downstream to Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is collecting these orphaned containers, which range in size from small buckets to 500,000-gallon tanks. Many contain hazardous materials, including diesel fuel, pesticides and ammonia gas.

Most of the containers have washed up along the banks of the Missouri River in the northwest corner of the state, said DNR environmental scientist Stephen McLane.

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.

Rita Csapo-Sweet joined Wednesday's program.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In 2012, Rita Csapo-Sweet and her husband, the late Frederick Sweet, jointly published a paper on the ghastly but little-known legacy of Carl Clauberg, a German physician who conducted mass sterilization experiments at Auschwitz during World War II. Clauberg would use his work in the concentration camp to develop a pioneering fertility test. 

“Clauberg’s name needs to be placed next to [Josef] Mengele’s in its rightful place in infamy,” the two scholars concluded, emphasizing that Clauberg’s medical crimes against humanity “must be disclosed whenever the test bearing his name appears” in modern biomedical texts.

As Csapo-Sweet and Sweet dug into their research, filmmakers Sylvia Nagel and Sonya Winterberg also began a documentary about Clauberg — and the St. Louis-based couple’s academic article filled in key gaps in the filmmakers’ story. Nagel and Winterberg reached out to Csapo-Sweet in 2015, and she joined the documentary as its American producer.

Matthew Albrecht (at front), associate scientist at the Garden's Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development, and volunteer Eva Adams help during a honeysuckle sweep workday at Shaw Nature Reserve in 2018.
Mike Saxton | Shaw Nature Reserve

Bush honeysuckle isn't native to Missouri, but the species is flourishing in the state. The infestation has impacted the diversity and abundance of native plants, eliminated essential habitats for the insects that rely upon native plants, and has provided poor nutrition for birds, among other issues. The honeysuckle also escalates human exposure to Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis, a tickborne bacterial infection, by increasing the activity of the tick host, whitetailed deer. 

In an effort to upset honeysuckle infestation, the Missouri Botanical Garden has organized public events and volunteer removal days to raise public awareness about the need for bush honeysuckle removal and the benefits of replacing it with native plants. 

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with the garden’s restoration outreach coordinator, Ali Brown, who is heading up the organization’s Honeysuckle Sweep Month

Starting treatment with a mental health specialist often requires a wait of several weeks, but many psychiatrists and other specialists in Kansas City have waiting lists stretching over months.

While the need for mental health treatment has been growing in Missouri, many patient advocates say the state’s refusal to aggressively enforce mental health parity may be making the wait times even longer.

Marty Sexton, a 50-year-old disabled grandfather who lives in Peculiar, worked as a firefighter and then an army medic in Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Enduring Freedom.

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. 

EMILY WOODBURY | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

In 2009, New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan suddenly experienced hallucinations, paranoia, seizures and catatonia. She was misdiagnosed for a month before she was finally treated for a rare autoimmune disease that can attack the brain, anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.

Cahalan has little recollection of this time in her life, but she investigated her experience and published the details in her 2012 book, “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.”

The fossa is one of the mammals that scientists are studying in Madagascar.
Fidisoa Rasambainarivo

For nearly three decades, the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis has bestowed its World Ecology Award on prominent biodiversity-minded individuals ranging from John Denver to E.O. Wilson. But this year the center is instead honoring a pair of world-class local institutions — the Missouri Botanical Garden and the St. Louis Zoo — for their critical research and conservation work in Madagascar.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with the center’s interim director, Patty Parker, and with a Malagasy scientist, Fidisoa Rasambainarivo, who is in St. Louis to speak at an upcoming gala where the zoo and garden are being honored.

Sheila McGlown has become an advocate for inclusion of women of color in clinical trials.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In 2009, when Sheila McGlown began battling metastatic breast cancer at the age of 43, she was already a skilled fighter. She’d spent 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, a background she says gave her strength as well as a sense of defiance that would serve her well amid new challenges.

Ten years later, McGlown is still undergoing cancer treatment — and still focused on the service to others that she cherished during her military career. The Swansea, Illinois, resident has found a new passion for advocacy around the inclusion of women of color in clinical trials. Meanwhile, she’s also 16 months into a clinical trial participation herself.

On Monday, in light of Veterans Day, McGlown joined St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske to discuss her journey.

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County jail will now provide inmates with better menstrual pads and tampons free of charge.

County Executive Sam Page last week signed an executive order making the change after a survey from the nonprofit Missouri Appleseed found inmates couldn’t afford the products they needed.

Syringe exchange programs have been used to reduce rates of HIV and other infectious diseases among drug users who share needles. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen next week could consider allowing addiction treatment providers to run such a program.11/8/19
File photo | Zachariah Hughes | Alaska Public Media

Addiction treatment providers in St. Louis could soon begin distributing clean syringes to intravenous drug users under a program overseen by the city’s health department. 

Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, introduced a bill supporting the proposal on Friday. The board sent the bill to the Health and Human Services Committee, which could consider it next week. 

Syringe services programs, often described as needle exchanges, have proven track records of reducing the rates of infectious diseases such as HIV among drug users who share needles.

Anthrax vaccine doses ready to be given to emergency responders are stored at Washington University.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Emergency responders in St. Louis are among the first to receive the anthrax vaccine as part of a federal program to inoculate local personnel.

Health officials from Washington University and local health departments have begun giving the vaccine to first responders who volunteer as part of a federal program testing the distribution of the shots to emergency personnel.

Anthrax is a disease contracted when a person consumes or inhales deadly spores of anthrax bacteria. When modified to a powdered form in a lab, anthrax can be distributed through the air by terrorists.

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. 

Wingspan designer and avid birder Elizabeth Hargrave created the game after realizing most of the boardgames she was playing were about subjects she didn't care about, like castles and trains.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Board games have come a long way since Monopoly.

Players can spend hours immersed in sophisticated, story-driven games — building civilizations on Mars or battling dungeon monsters.

But one of the most popular games of the year isn’t focused on war or domination; it’s about birds.

In Wingspan, a scientifically accurate game from St. Louis-based publisher Stonemaier Games, players create their own personal aviary. The game has become wildly successful with both hardcore gamers and birders — groups whose interests don’t always overlap.

An empty lot at 401 Adelaide Ave. in the industrial North Riverfront area.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

A California energy company plans to build a plant next year in north St. Louis that will turn trash into fuel for large factories. 

STL Land Development, a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based New Planet Energy, will build the plant on a 20-acre site in the North Riverfront area. The developer expects it to divert up to 2,250 tons of trash per day from local landfills. 

When built next year, the plant will be able to recover 80% of the plastic, cardboard and other materials it receives, said Ryan Bird, CEO of New Planet Energy.

The State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, has sloped auditorium-style seating and plenty of outlets to keep laptops and cell phones charged. This is where officials gather during and immediately after tornadoes and massive flooding.

It’s the center for crisis control. 

That’s why in September, this space at the Iowa National Guard headquarters became the incident command center for a four day simulation exercise to test how well prepared Iowa and the other top pork-producing states are for an African swine fever outbreak.

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.

Kawanna Shannon, director of surgical services at Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, answers questions during a press conference Friday.
File Photo| Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The top administrator at Missouri’s sole abortion provider testified during the last day of a hearing that state officials had become increasingly combatative in relations with the clinic during the past year.

Kawanna Shannon, director of surgical services at Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services, said the change in relationship was proof the clinic’s inspectors were coming to the clinic with an agenda to find problems to prove the clinic was unsafe. 

“It seemed as if they didn’t understand their own regulations, as if they didn’t understand the womens’ anatomy,” she said. “Just asking questions that never made any sense … it was as if they had never inspected us at all.”

Missouri Solicitor General John Sauer gives a statement before Administrative Hearing Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi. Dandamudi will decide if the state was justified in declining to renew the license of the last abortion provider left in Missouri.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The chief doctor at Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic testified during a high-profile regulatory hearing on Wednesday that the abortions performed there are safe and that the facility has an above-average record of successful procedures.

State health officials earlier this year decided not to renew the license for Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinic, citing concerns about patient safety.

The four instances of patient care that caused state regulators alarm were in line with acceptable legal and medical standards of care, said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services. The clinic performs thousands of procedures a year, she said. 

Maliyah Isadora and her mother Courtney at their home in Florissant in this 2015 photo.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Black infants in St. Louis County are more than twice as likely to die as white infants, according to a new report.

The first Maternal and Child Health Profile, released today at Washington University’s Institute for Public Health conference, highlights troubling racial disparities in the health of moms and babies in St. Louis County. Health officials acknowledge these persistent issues, but also point to progress in other areas — including declines in teen pregnancy.

The Halloween golf cart parade last Friday evening in Soulard drew dozens of vehicles, all decked out in their holiday finest.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Golf carts aren’t just for fairways. They’ve long been popular in St. Louis’ Soulard neighborhood, where many residents use them to tool around the narrow streets and run quick errands. But in recent years, they’re growing in popularity in other areas as well.

“I’ve definitely noticed over the last 10 years the golf cart movement spreading out into other parts of the city,” St. Louis Alderman Dan Guenther, D-9th Ward, said last Friday evening while attending the neighborhood’s Halloween golf cart parade.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske took a closer look at golf cart trends in the region and heard from local golf cart owners as well as people with questions about the carts. Joining the conversation in studio were St. Louis transportation planner Scott Ogilvie and Midwest Golf Car manager and mechanic Kurt Hagen.

Missouri Solicitor General John Sauer, left, and Planned Parenthood attorney Chuck Hatfield speak during a break on the first day of a hearing that could determine the fate of Missouri's sole abortion clinic. Oct. 28, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On the first day of an administrative hearing that could determine the fate of Missouri’s sole abortion clinic, attorneys for the state questioned the safety of Planned Parenthood’s clinic and said state regulators acted with patients in mind when they did not renew its license.

The lawyers spent hours attempting to prove through witness testimony the state’s Department of Health and Human Services acted legally when it did not issue a renewed license to Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services in St. Louis last June.

A member of the Administrative Hearing Commission, a nonpartisan state body that resolves regulatory disputes, will decide if the department acted properly.

Jorge Riopedre, the outgoing CEO and president of Casa de Salud, poses for a portrait in his office on Oct. 23, 2019.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

After nine years as president of the Casa de Salud health clinic in St. Louis, Jorge Riopedre has announced he’s leaving the health center on Nov. 1.

During his tenure, the clinic opened a mental health office and debuted a program to help patients, most of whom are immigrants, find low-cost care at hospitals. It also more than doubled its staff.

Casa de Salud’s board of directors is searching for a new director, and Riopedre has said he doesn’t know what he will do next.

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