Health, Science, Environment | St. Louis Public Radio

Health, Science, Environment

The first-ever Sans Bar STL event drew a large crowd to the Third Degree Art Factory, despite a conscientious lack of booze.
Meredith Marquardt

From its early Lemp Brewery days to the Schlafly era and beyond, St. Louis has earned its reputation as a drinking town. But lately the city is also seeing a nightlife trend that doesn’t involve alcohol at all.

Among other beverage and restaurant industry professionals, the people behind WellBeing Brewing, a locally based company that exclusively makes non-alcoholic craft beer, have helped to catalyze the movement. So has the Wellness Council of St. Louis, which is affiliated with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and oversees Sans Bar STL.

The inaugural Sans Bar STL event early this year drew about 300 people to Third Degree Glass Factory for a night of music, glassblowing, tarot card readings and handcrafted alcohol-free drinks.

This year’s catastrophic flooding has created hard times for many people in Midwest, but it’s created a nirvana for mosquitoes.

Kansas City and the surrounding region could potentially become a hotbed for mosquito-borne viruses like West Nile virus in the coming years due to increasing temperatures and more frequent flooding, which are predicted by climate experts.

A taxidermied feral hog was on display at an open house in Rolla to get comment about hunting them in the Mark Twain National Forest.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Feral hogs are causing major damage to the Mark Twain National Forest.

The animals dig up grasslands and crops, they eat eggs and baby wildlife, and scratching an itch on their backs can literally strip the bark off a tree.

Hunters want a chance to help out with this menace that can weigh over 200 pounds and produce 40 to 50 offspring a year. But the National Forest Service is considering outlawing feral hog hunts on public land in the Mark Twain.

David Patterson Silver Wolf (at left) and Rachel Winograd joined Monday's talk show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

A few weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released some positive statistics related to the ongoing opioid crisis. While drug overdose deaths in the U.S. had reached record levels in 2017, the nation saw an overall 4.2% decline in 2018.

In Missouri, though, the 2018 outcomes were far less hopeful – despite an influx of $65 million in federal funds aimed at addressing the crisis over the past few years. Provisional data for the state indicates a 16% increase in drug overdose deaths over the course of last year.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with two local experts about where Missouri should go from here in light of the discouraging statistics.

A sign outside the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery advertises Narcan, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose.
File photo |Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Since 2016, Missouri has received more than $65 million in federal grants to provide treatment and recovery services to people addicted to opioids.

The money has provided thousands of people with addiction medication, counseling and residential services. But the latest grant cycle expires in September 2020, and addiction treatment providers are uncertain if Congress will approve funding after that. With Missouri’s opioid-related death toll rising each year, advocates say funding for medical treatment is more important than ever.

DHSS begins accepting medical marijuana applications
Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio

After taking in $4.2 million in early application fees, Missouri’s medical marijuana program is off to a slow start since it began accepting full applications on Saturday.

Roughly 600 applicants chose to pay their required fees in advance, but so far only 27 full applications have been submitted. The application process is extensive, and the deadline isn’t until Aug. 17. Still, Lyndall Fraker, the director of the state’s medical marijuana program, said he was surprised by the low numbers. 

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.

Twenty-one-year-old filmmaker and Webster University student Tanner Craft (at right), who was diagnosed with autism as a young child, joined Wednesday's talk show alongside his mother, Tanya Craft.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The first few minutes of Tanner Craft’s new film pair a seemingly everyday scene – a mother and her young son at a doctor’s office – with an unsettling soundtrack. There’s a looming, ongoing hum audible beneath the dialogue as the physician tells the mother that her son has autism spectrum disorder.

“It’s a developmental disorder,” the doctor says, the mother appearing overwhelmed. “It impairs his ability to communicate and interact with others.”

But “Diagnosis,” which Craft wrote, directed and produced, doesn’t stop there. The short film goes on to highlight a mother-son journey from early diagnosis, to learning more about autism and existing resources, to finding new ways to connect with one another and thrive.

A study from SLU is one of the first clear indications that quitting smoking during pregnancy can have health benefits for a developing fetus throughout the third trimester.
(via Flickr/shnnn)

The longer a woman smokes during pregnancy, the more likely she is to have a low birth weight baby, a study by a St. Louis University epidemiologist has found.

The link between smoking and low birth weight babies has been well-established. But the study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal is one of the first clear indications that quitting smoking during pregnancy can have health benefits for a developing fetus throughout the third trimester, said Pam Xaverius, an assistant professor of epidemiology at SLU.

“So a pregnant mom should not say, ‘Oh well, I’ve already been smoking; it’s not going to do any good now to quit,’” said Xaverius, who serves as director of the school’s maternal and child health program.

Missouri workers providing care for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities make less than a Walmart or Target worker, even after a pay increase that went into effect last month. 

The low pay is the main reason about half of Missouri workers quit each year, according to Missouri Developmental Disabilities Division Director Val Huhn.

Premature babies in the St. Louis Children's Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit heard an average of 14,000 fewer words over a 16-hour period, compared to full-term babies in delivery rooms. Differences in language exposure may affect brain development.
ceejayoz | Flickr

In the neonatal intensive care unit, keeping fragile infants alive is the number one priority.

But new research from Washington University suggests doctors and parents should also consider the amount of background noise premature babies are hearing.

Xan Fredericks of the U.S. Geological Survey demonstrates the new flood preparedness and planning tool. The U.S. Department of the Interior developed the tool in response to this year's floods. Aug 1 2019
Nicolas Telep | St. Louis Public Radio

A new online data and mapping tool went live today, and its creators hope municipalities in flood-prone areas will use it to plan for and respond to natural disasters.

The Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative and the U.S. Department of the Interior created an electronic portal in response to this year’s near-record flooding. The MRCTI Imagery and Information Viewer aggregates maps, weather forecasts and up-to-date data on floods and droughts — all information necessary for cities to better plan for natural disasters.

After a hearing at the Southern District of Illinois' U.S. District Court, a judge will determine whether the state of Illinois must begin changing its procedures for medically treating transgender prisoners. July 31, 2019.
Nick Telep | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 6:30 p.m., Aug. 1 with testimony from Illinois Department of Corrections officials — The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois wants a federal judge to order the state of Illinois to change its practices for providing medical treatment to transgender prisoners. 

Current policies fail to provide adequate health care to prisoners diagnosed with gender dysphoria, according to opening arguments made Wednesday by the ACLU in a federal court in East St. Louis. Illinois Department of Correction practices deny and delay medically necessary treatment for years, leading to “profound suffering” and increasing the risks of self-harm and suicide for transgender prisoners, the ACLU’s motion argues. 

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. 

Maia Hayes joined dozens of abortion rights advocates downtown in protesting the potential shuttering of Missouri's last abortion provider. May 30, 2019
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are asking a federal judge to overturn a Missouri law banning most abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy. 

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Jefferson City, lawyers for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services, the St. Louis clinic that provides abortion services, asked the court to overturn the law on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

“Extreme legislators are really pushing to find any way possible to outlaw abortion in the state,” said Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

Federal agencies are scrambling to establish regulations for hemp and hemp products as farmers in the Midwest and around the country start growing the crop. 

In the meantime, the government is warning companies not to make health claims about CBD they can’t back up. 

Sci-fi writers have long warned about the dangers of modifying organisms. They come in forms ranging from accidentally creating a plague of killer locusts (1957) to recreating dinosaurs with added frog genes (2015).

Now, with researchers looking to even more advanced gene-editing technology to protect crops, they’ll have to think about how to present that tech to a long-skeptical public. 

The majority of people housed at the Medium Security Institution in St. Louis do not have air conditioning. (July 19, 2017)
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Department of Health and Division of Corrections are vaccinating 800 people at the city’s two jails to prevent a national hepatitis A outbreak from spreading among inmates.

Since 2016, more than 22,000 people have caught the highly contagious liver virus, which can cause nausea and jaundice and require long periods of hospitalization. Inmates are among the most at risk of contracting the disease, St. Louis Health Department Director Fred Echols said.

“This project at the correctional facilities is truly a preventative measure that we’re implementing to try and protect the population," Echols said. 

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 kit containing the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.
File Photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

The number of drug-related deaths increased by 16% last year, as fatal overdoses declined by an estimated 5.1% nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Missouri is one of 17 states that saw a rise in drug-related deaths last year. In 34 states, the number of deaths declined. Only Delaware had a higher increase over the previous year, at 16.7%.

David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

She started using drugs at 16. After moving around the country and trying to quit several times, she came back to St. Louis four years later, hoping for a fresh start. 

After a few months, B. started using again. She has borderline personality disorder, a mental illness that makes it difficult to regulate emotions. She used drugs, mostly illegal opioids, to deal with the mental pain. 

Last winter, she had a chest cold and went to an urgent care center to get a steroid shot. After an exam, a nurse called her over and explained she couldn’t get the medicine, because it might harm her baby. Soon, she would need help with prenatal care and overcoming her addiction, the kind of treatment a Washington University clinic provides.

Seventeen people lost their lives in last summer's duck boat tragedy on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri.
Paul Sableman | Flickr

Last Friday marked the one-year anniversary of a tragic accident that killed 17 people near Branson, Missouri, one of the state’s biggest family-vacation destinations. The drownings occurred when a Ride the Ducks boat capsized and sank on Table Rock Lake in neighboring Stone County.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Branson Mayor Edd Akers and Fire Chief Ted Martin talked with St. Louis Public Radio’s Jeremy D. Goodwin. They looked back on the day of the tragedy and also discussed efforts to support victims and their families and bring healing to the Branson community.

Missouri Firm With Silicon Valley Ties Faces Medicare Billing Scrutiny

Jul 23, 2019
Healthcare illustration
Susannah Lohr | St. Louis Public Radio

In many ways, Essence Group Holdings Corp. is a homegrown health care success story.

Founded in St. Louis, it has grown into a broader company backed by a major Silicon Valley investor. Essence now boasts Medicare Advantage plans for seniors with some 60,000 members in Missouri and across the Mississippi River in Illinois. It ranks among the city's top 35 privately held companies, according to the St. Louis Business Journal. And market research firm PitchBook Data values the company at over $1.64 billion.

But a recent audit by the federal Health and Human Services inspector general, along with a whistleblower lawsuit, have put the St. Louis health care standout under scrutiny. Medicare officials also are conducting a separate audit of Essence.

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.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 28, 2012 - A soy-based meat substitute said to have the texture and taste of chicken is slowly making its way to the shelves of a handful of Whole Foods Market stores in northern California.

The University of Missouri at Columbia will take a big interest in the consumer reaction because the meatless product was developed by scientists there. The product comes from more than a decade of work by a team led by Fu-Hung Hsieh (pronounced “shay”), a professor of biological engineering and food science at the university’s College of Agriculture.

Historical Spring Flooding Caused More Than $33 Million In Damages In The Metro East

Jul 22, 2019
The Illinois River has crested in Grafton, just north of the confluence the Illinois and Mississippi River.
Derik Holtman | Belleville News-Democrat

After months of persistent flooding in the metro-east, counties are tabulating the damages and requesting millions of dollars in federal assistance.

Thursday marked the last day for Illinois counties to request Public Assistance Reimbursement through the state. Between Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties, roughly $33 million in aid is being requested. The figure is expected to go higher.

“We knew the costs would be high due to the length of the flooding, but never imagined it would be this high,” Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler said.

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.

NASA

Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, when humanity took its first steps on another planetary body via astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, guest host Jim Kirchherr remembered that day in history with the manager at the James S. McDonnell Planetarium, Will Snyder, and Linda Godwin, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Missouri and retired NASA astronaut. 

Dr. Anne Cross of Washington University School of Medicine joined Thursday's talk show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Years ago, when many multiple sclerosis researchers believed that a type of immune cell known as a T-cell was the cause of the disease, Dr. Anne Cross turned her focus instead to B-cells. Her findings have led to key breakthroughs in MS research – and also to receiving the John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the American Academy of Neurology.

Cross, who is The Manny and Rosalyn Rosenthal – Dr. John L. Trotter MS Center Chair in Neuroimmunology of Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation, joined Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air for a conversation with guest host Jim Kirchherr of the Nine Network.

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