Health, Science, Environment | St. Louis Public Radio

Health, Science, Environment

Opioid-related overdoses killed an estimated 1,635 Missourians in 2018, according to preliminary numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Doctoral students in psychology at the University of Missouri will be able to learn how to better treat and prevent addiction thanks to a $1.2 million grant from the federal government.

The funds from the Department of Health and Human Services will pay for 21 new psychology internships in areas that lack health services, more than doubling the department’s current positions.

“This will enable us to give them a little something extra,” said Laura Schopp, chair of the university’s health psychology department. “Any psychologist who is dealing with these chronic health conditions is going to come up against substance use disorders and, particularly, opioid use disorders.”

Kevin Cox landed a million-dollar fellowship designed to promote diversity in science. Sept. 2019.
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Kevin Cox Jr., 28, asked a lot of questions as a child. He wanted to know how and why things came to be. 

The plant biologist, a Florissant native, figured his curiosity would take him into the medical field, but at the end of his sophomore year at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, he found a new interest: microbes.

Eventually, his inquisitive nature paid off. In September, he landed a $1.4 million fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The money will fund his work as a plant science fellow at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Robots mounted with new detection equipment roll toward a simulated collapsed building at Fort Leonard Wood as part of testing of new technology. 10-18-19
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

FORT LEONARD WOOD — Soldiers in Missouri are testing new technology that could help save lives after a natural disaster or a terrorist bombing while keeping search-and-rescue teams safe.

The $700,000 Department of Defense project at Fort Leonard Wood is combining new and existing forms of technology that can be used by both the military and civilian first responders.

Luka Cai is a co-founder of the newly launched SQSH project.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Growing up in Singapore, Washington University undergraduate Luka Cai was closeted, finding little support there for members of the LGBTQ community. But even in their new home of St. Louis, where Cai openly identifies as a pansexual transmasculine queer person, they’ve observed a need for more peer-to-peer support.

“When I came to St. Louis, I felt very much more affirmed and accepted by the St. Louis queer community, and I saw the same needs around me,” Cai said, “of people feeling isolated, rejected, discriminated against — and that comes out in terms of housing insecurity and employment security as well.”

This led Cai to the idea for SQSH, the St. Louis Queer+ Support Helpline that they and a co-founder launched earlier this month. The all-volunteer effort aims to be “for the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ community, by the community,” inviting calls to 314-380-7774, with highly trained volunteers ready to provide support.

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 Callaway Nuclear Generating Station in Fulton is the only nuclear power plant in Missouri.
File photo | Veronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Air Conservation Commission is asking state legislators to repeal a decades-old law that controls how companies fund new nuclear power plants. 

The Construction Work in Progress law, passed by Missouri voters in 1976, prohibits utility companies from charging customers to cover the cost of building power plants until the facilities are up and running. 

The commission unanimously passed a resolution Thursday calling the law an “intractable roadblock” for nuclear power in Missouri. Opponents say the governor-appointed commission is overstepping its bounds. 

Dr. Christopher Lewis (at left) and Jordan Braxton explain the intersex condition and its nuances on Thursday's "St. Louis on the Air."
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Being born intersex isn’t limited to ambiguous genitalia. There’s a plethora of intersex conditions, about 150. Some of them require surgical intervention, some don’t. And while the condition is common, there are still a lot of misconceptions about it. Ignorance can lead parents to allow surgical interventions that strip away the autonomy of individuals and expose them to irreversible physical damage. 

Midwestern Farm Runoff Creates Headache For Louisiana Shrimpers

Oct 17, 2019
Shrimper Thomas Olander inspects one of the nets on his boat. Olander says the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico makes shrimping tougher. 10/16/19
Travis Lux | New Orleans Public Radio

It’s only midmorning, but shrimper Thomas Olander is already calling it quits for the day in a small bayou in St. Mary Parish, on the central Louisiana coast.

There aren’t enough shrimp out there — especially the highly sought-after jumbo shrimp that fetch the highest prices at the market.

“It's just not worth it,” Olander said, of his morning burning fuel, supplies and time.

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. 

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 13, 2013 - A federal judge has ruled that mandatory drug testing for students at Linn State Technical College is unconstitutional unless they are enrolled in certain programs where drug use could pose a safety hazard.

The 62-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey is the latest in a two-year legal battle between the college, which instituted the mandatory drug testing for all students, and students who say their constitutional rights have been violated.

Salad is available to students at Hickey Elementary School.
Hilary Davidson | St. Louis Public Radio

More than 12% of Missouri children are obese, but the 2018 rate held steady from the year before, according to a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Although obesity among Missourians age 10-17 is relatively unchanged, doctors say the stabilizing rate is a sign that public awareness campaigns and other health initiatives are working. 

“I think the fact it’s not going up is a great thing to see,” said Julie Benard, a Columbia pediatrician who specializes in treating childhood obesity. “It’s a great thing to see, at least for our initial efforts in making sure we’re at least curbing the trend of childhood obesity.”

From left, Lauren Vanlandingham and Aurrice Duke-Rollings
Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri & St. Louis Public Radio

Longtime Girl Scout and St. Louis-area resident Lauren Vanlandingham has earned quite a few badges and other accolades over the years. But the latest honor, announced last week by the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, definitely stands out: She’s been named a 2019 National Gold Award Girl Scout.

Considered to be the organization’s highest honor, it’s a designation reserved for just 10 Girl Scouts each year — young women who have taken action to address the world’s most pressing issues.

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.

Enrollment for Missouri Medicare begins Tuesday and lasts until early December.
Susannah Lohr | St. Louis Public Radio

Health officials are urging Missouri’s 1.2 million Medicare enrollees to research new plans to save money during this year’s open enrollment.

Enrollment in the state-funded health insurance program for older adults begins Tuesday and lasts until early December. Patients can save money by researching and changing plans, federal officials said.

“We’ve seen people save thousands of dollars by switching their prescription drug plan from one year to the next,” said Julie Brookhart, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City regional office of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the program.

Sarah Schlafly, co-founder of Mighty Cricket, measures cricket powder on March 14, 2019 for a batch of dark cocoa oatmeal at Urban Eats Cafe.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

According to projections by the United Nations, our current food system won’t adequately sustain the 9 billion people expected to be living on Earth by 2050. Protein, the most resource-intensive ingredient in food, will be especially hard to produce.

St. Louis resident Sarah Schlafly is keenly aware of that fact. That’s why she started Mighty Cricket, a startup that produces food products including powdered, roasted crickets.

Crickets are a protein source comparable to animal protein. They can also be farmed in small spaces within an urban setting. Schlafly predicts that this food source will become quite affordable roughly 30 years from now, right around when animal protein will likely be more expensive and harder to come by.

From left, Lisa Weingarth, Stacie Zellin and Kendra Holmes joined Wednesday's talk show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Women comprise nearly half of the United States’ civilian labor force, according to the Department of Labor’s latest statistics. Their annual median earnings — about $42,000 — fall about $10,000 short of the median paycheck men see each year. And along with the compensation gap, other workforce gender-equity disparities remain common for many industries and employers.

The Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis aims to measure progress on that front with its Women in the Workplace Employment Scorecard. The voluntary rating system, which is now underway for this year, includes a voluntary employer survey exploring policies, practices and work culture.

A vacant lot on Finney Avenue photographed on October 8, 2019. The Neighborhood Lot Maintenance pilot program aims to chip away at the issue of overgrown city-owned vacant land by hiring private contractors to maintain the land.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Thaddeus Gerdine maintains more than 60 vacant lots in the city of St. Louis. 

“They just seemed like no one was taking care of them,” said Gerdine, who keeps the grass trimmed and picks up trash.

His construction company, Triple T, is one of five small businesses participating in a city-run pilot program that pays private crews to maintain vacant lots. The program, which is wrapping up its first season, focuses on neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of vacant land. 

Julia Lopez is a clinical social worker and public health researcher at Washington University.
Washington University

There are about 90,000 Hispanic people in the St. Louis area, but mental health services featuring Spanish-speaking providers lag behind need, said Julia Lopez, a public health researcher and clinical social worker at Washington University. 

Lopez will speak Wednesday about the need for more mental health resources for the St. Louis region’s small but growing Hispanic population.

Missouri Botanical Garden's Glenda Abney (at left) and StraightUp Solar's Eric Schneider joined Monday's program to discuss a pilot project for St Louis residents that helps pool their buying power for discounts on solar panels.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

While the sun’s rays were at full effect this August, the Missouri Botanical Garden launched its Grow Solar St. Louis program for St. Louis-area home and business owners. In partnership with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association and Washington University, property owners throughout the city and county can participate in this pilot program to pool their buying power for discounts on solar panels.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske was joined by Glenda Abney, director of the Garden’s EarthWays Center, to delve into why the initiative was started and how interested St. Louisans can use green energy to power their homes. 

A brining truck sprays saltwater on the roadways ahead of a winter storm in December 2016. Brining can reduce the amount of saltwater runoff from roadways, according to new research from St. Louis University.
Danelle Haake | St. Louis University

Winter is still months away, but Missouri road crews are already stockpiling salt — millions of pounds of it. 

Though it’s a cheap and effective de-icing method, road salt washes into nearby streams and can contaminate drinking water. New research from St. Louis University finds applying saltwater to roads, known as brining, can reduce the amount of salt that ends up in streams.

Officials say even healthy people should receive a flu vaccine to protect the greater population.
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Public health experts are urging Missourians to get a flu shot ahead of a flu season that could likely arrive earlier and be more severe than last year’s. 

The vaccine is the most effective way for people to protect themselves and others in the community from the flu, state health officials said. 

“Herd immunity” also can protect at-risk people including the elderly, young children and people who cannot safely receive vaccines, but only if high numbers of people who can receive the shot are immunized.

Workers for the Environmental Protection Agency collect a water sample. SIUE will investigate contaminants in regional water with a grant from the agency.
Environmental Protection Agency

BELLEVILLE — Southern Illinois University Edwardsville will research water quality in the region with a $100,000 educational grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The grant provides funds to train undergraduate students in environmental sampling and analysis over the next two years. The funds will also support teaching the students to communicate the results of their work to the public. Students will be guided by faculty, but they’ll be conducting the day-to-day work, said Kevin Tucker, an assistant professor of chemistry.

Michael Plisco, a critical care pulmonologist at Mercy Hospital St. Louis, says vaping still carries serious unknown risks.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Across the U.S., 18 people have died and more than 1,000 have become sick from a little-understood respiratory disease linked to vaping products. In Missouri, one patient has died, and state health officials have confirmed at least seven cases.

People with the illness report shortness of breath, nausea and coughing. Doctors have placed some patients on life support or respirators because their lungs have stopped working entirely.

Until doctors know more about the effects of vaping, people should stay away from the products, said Dr. Michael Plisco, a pulmonologist at Mercy Hospital St. Louis who treated the man who died.

A section of the Big Piney River that runs through Fort Leonard Wood. This is one of the places that provides habitat to endandered species that live at the base. 10-02-19
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Fort Leonard Wood is home to more than 6,000 soldiers and at least three endangered species.

Those animals and two more that are threatened are protected and cared for despite living among shelling and other military training.

And scientists flock to the installation, saying it’s a boon to their research and gives them an opportunity to help these animals.

Dr. Marty Makary of Johns Hopkins University joins Wednesday's program.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Much of the conversation about contemporary American health care revolves around money more than actual medicine. But given the crushing costs associated with seemingly every aspect of the industry, that focus isn’t so surprising.

As Dr. Marty Makary of Johns Hopkins University notes in his newly published book, “The Price We Pay: What Broke American Healthcare — And How To Fix It,” one in five Americans currently has medical debt in collections.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Makary joined host Sarah Fenske to talk about his research into why costs are skyrocketing — and what can be done to redesign the broken U.S. health care system.

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.

Patricia Powers went a few years without health insurance and was unable to afford regular doctor visits. So the Missouri resident, who lives near St. Louis, had no idea that cancerous tumors were silently growing in both of her breasts.

Dan Burkhardt of the Katy Land Trust voiced concerns over the proposed Missouri Bluffs Development during a St. Charles Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on July 17, 2019.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Oct. 1 with St. Charles County Council's final approval of proposal

The St. Charles County Council voted 5-1 on Monday night approving a controversial housing project near the Katy Trail.

The county’s planning and zoning commission had twice rejected the proposal to build more than 200 homes on bluffs above the Missouri River. The council needed five votes to override that rejection.

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. 

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