Health, Science, Environment | St. Louis Public Radio

Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

An active coal-ash pond at the Meramec Energy Center in St. Louis County in February 2018.
File Photo | Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency notified Missouri environmental regulators this month that the state’s plan for overseeing the disposal of toxic waste from coal-fired power plants is not strong enough to protect human health and the environment.

In a recent letter to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, EPA officials noted several provisions in the state’s plan that are weaker than the 2015 federal coal ash rule. Some allow the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to waive requirements for utility companies to clean up groundwater contamination or even monitor groundwater for toxic chemicals if they can show that it doesn’t affect drinking-water supplies or harm the environment.

Wind turbines and transmission towers in the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm in Benton County, Indiana.
Chris Light | Wikimedia Commons

The Missouri Public Service Commission gave the green light Wednesday to allow a 780-mile wind-energy transmission line to be built across Missouri.

The Grain Belt Express transmission line will deliver nearly 4,000 megawatts of power from wind farms in western Kansas to parts of Missouri, Illinois and some eastern states. The line would course through eight Missouri counties, including Caldwell, Randolph and Monroe.

New nurse Becky Boesch looks through files as part of her job as a nurse in the cardiac step-down unit at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri State Board of Nursing has approved expanding five of the state’s nursing programs, adding 250 slots for future students.

State officials say the move aims to help reduce nursing vacancies. The profession has one of the highest vacancy rates in the health sector, with 13 percent of positions unfilled in Missouri, according to the Missouri Hospital Association.

Monsanto's widely-used weed killer Roundup on a shelf in Home Depot.
File photo | Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

A federal jury in San Francisco has unanimously decided that Bayer AG’s weed killer Roundup caused a California resident to develop cancer.

Edwin Hardeman alleged in his suit that using the herbicide over three decades on his properties caused him to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that affects the immune system. His lawsuit is the first federal court case against Bayer’s Roundup and could predict the outcome of hundreds of cases that the company faces for similar claims. Bayer bought St. Louis-based Monsanto, maker of Roundup, last year.

Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

About 60 percent of the approximately 70,000 Missourians purged from the state’s Medicaid program in 2018 lost coverage because they failed to reply to a mailed renewal form, according to state data.

The Missouri Department of Social Services started using an automated system to determine residents’ Medicaid eligibility last year. If the system couldn’t find their information, the state mailed enrollees renewal forms to complete and return.

Some health experts and state officials are concerned people otherwise eligible for the program are living without insurance because they never received the mail.

Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery Executive Director stands beside the nonprofit's mobile outreach van. The decal on the back window represents the molecule naloxone, a chemical that can reverse and overdose.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

A St. Louis nonprofit is sending outreach workers to city streets to dispense life-saving treatment from a newly refurbished ambulance.

The Missouri Network For Opiate Reform and Recovery will use the vehicle to dispense the overdose-reversal drug naloxone to active drug users and those in recovery. It also provides testing for sexually transmitted diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV and information about treatment programs.

The mobile unit extends the nonprofit’s reach beyond its headquarters at 4022 S. Broadway.

An art installation in Granite City showing casts of driftwood from flood events.
Meghan Grubb

In an industrial, desolate block of Granite City, artists are presenting videos, photography and sculptures that depict environmental problems in the St. Louis area.

The 18 pieces that comprise Art + Landscape STL are on display the Granite City Art and Design District, a converted area of former retail and outdoor spaces along State Street. Some works, like a ring of stacked sandbags, allude to flooding along the Mississippi River.

A table of objects that include a map of where radioactive Manhattan Project waste had been dumped in north St. Louis County refers to toxic-waste sites. The exhibits will be on display for the next four weekends.

Kaci Dalton helped residents fill sandbags on Starling Airport Road in Arnold in May 2017.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Federal officials are encouraging St. Louis residents to enroll in flood insurance, in anticipation of a potentially severe flood season.

Most homeowners and renters-insurance policies don’t cover flooding, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers flood insurance to residents in thousands of U.S. cities, including St. Louis. The program — which dates back to the late 1960s — sets insurance rates based on building location, age and other factors.

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

A survey of first-year St. Louis University medical students found those who described themselves as perfectionists were more likely to experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

The findings, published in February in the journal Academic Psychiatry, show the thought processes that are lauded in high-achieving fields such as medicine can have a serious effect on students’ well-being.

“We then essentially found evidence these toxic thought patterns would contribute to distress and even mental health conditions in medical students,” said survey author Stuart Slavin, the medical school's former associate dean of curriculum.

Washington University School of Medicine's Deanna Barch (at left) and Joan Luby joined Tuesday's talk show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

A study released this week by the National Institutes of Health indicates that nearly one-third of Americans between the ages of 10 and 12 “screened positive for suicide risk in emergency department settings.”

Meanwhile, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have been studying even younger children who think and talk about suicide – and their most recent findings refute some conventional wisdom about children’s understanding of what it means to die.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, two local experts joined host Don Marsh to discuss the topic: Dr. Deanna Barch and Dr. Joan Luby.

Five separate outbreaks of H7N9 avian influenza have surfaced over the past six years, sickening more than 1,500 people. Researchers at SLU are now working to test a new vaccination against the virus.

Researchers at St. Louis University are recruiting volunteers to test a new vaccination for avian influenza.

The vaccination targets the H7N9 strain, which has caused at least 600 deaths since it first surfaced in China in 2013. The National Institutes of Health has identified the strain as one that could cause a global pandemic and is now preparing for an outbreak before it happens.

A person prepares a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which protects against 93-97 percent of measles cases. Health officials say a case has been reported in Jefferson County.
Matthew Lotz / U.S. Air Force

Health officials in Jefferson County are trying to find people who may have come in contact with a person there who has caught measles.

The person caught the virus after traveling, according to officials at the Jefferson County Health Department. The department is “working directly with the case to identify potential contacts and make arrangements for follow up immunizations and care if necessary,” officials said in a release.

Measles infects the respiratory system and can cause deafness, blindness and can even be fatal in some rare cases. People who contract the measles develop a distinctive red, splotchy rash over their bodies. There is no specific antiviral treatment or medicine for measles, but giving a person a vaccine soon after they’ve been infected may lessen symptoms.

Milkweed (at left), serviceberry (upper right) and buttonbush are just a few of the native plants that help St. Louis-area birds, butterflies and other wildlife thrive.
Shaw Nature Reserve and St. Louis Audubon Society

Even as an especially wintry winter continues to make itself known across the St. Louis region, spring is more and more on residents’ minds – and will finally be here, at least officially, in less than two weeks.

Along with warmer temperatures the new season brings renewed focus on gardening and yardwork, and on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh led a discussion about fostering native habitats and incorporating native plants as part of those efforts.

Andrew Joyce won’t be growing any tomatoes this summer. His three-acre produce farm in Malden, Missouri, will lie fallow. The cause: damage from the weed killer dicamba.

Response to repeated floods: Good cops and bad

Mar 10, 2019

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 29, 2011 - In 1973, St. Louis experienced record high flood levels, even though many earlier floods had posted higher flows. In a prescient paper the late Prof. Charles Belt of Saint Louis University explained that the progressive constriction of our rivers by levees and by in-channel navigational structures called wing dikes caused of the unexpected high water. Belt was criticized in a series of papers authored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which proceeded to enlarge levees and build new wing dikes in the river's channel.

Missouri S&T's Mark Bookout stands near one of the drones being tested to help inspect and repair bridges.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri University of Science and Technology could be part of the solution to the state’s bridge-maintenance problem.

The state is behind on its maintenance and is working with Missouri S&T on robots to make it easier to inspect and repair bridges.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 6, 2010 - In the next 25 years, the demand for energy across the planet is projected to rise about 1.5 times. The present course predicts that fossil fuels will still be supplying more than 80 percent of the energy used in 2030, while renewable and other energy sources will increase -- but not nearly enough to power the world.

Presidents of 26 universities from around the world gave their perspectives on energy and the environment at the McDonnell International Scholars Academy Symposium: "Global Energy Future" held at Washington University from Oct. 1-5.

Washington University postdoctoral researcher Corey Westfall, shown here, is part of a team investigating how the chemical triclosan interferes with antibiotic treatment.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

A common chemical used to kill bacteria is making them more capable of surviving antibiotics.

According to new research from Washington University, triclosan has a protective effect on strains of E. coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The chemical — which is added to hundreds of consumer products — also interferes with the antibiotic treatment of urinary-tract infections in mice.

Catherine "Cady" Coleman (center), who spent about six months aboard the International Space Station during her NASA career, traveled to St. Louis last month to help celebrate two Missouri Girl Scouts, Molly Frei (at left) and Lilly Orskog, who are doing
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Retired astronaut and U.S. Air Force officer Catherine “Cady” Coleman is among very few people who have lived in space. But during a visit to St. Louis last month, she came across as equally excited about life on Earth – especially because of her interactions with some accomplished high school students.

Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air included a conversation with Coleman as well as comments from two Gold Award Girl Scouts, 17-year-old Molly Frei and 16-year-old Lilly Orskog, who Coleman came to town to help celebrate alongside the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri.

A gray wolf
John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS

Wildlife conservationists worry that a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to remove federal protections for the endangered gray wolf will hurt efforts to restore the species in states where it has disappeared, such as Missouri.

Although the species is native to Missouri, the state has not had gray wolves since the 1950s, largely due to hunting, habitat loss and landowners killing them for preying on livestock. Today, only about 5,000 live in the western Great Lakes and Northern Rockies regions.

April Thomas (left) and Cory Lampkin (right) visited Jamaa Birth Village with their daughter Addisonkori in March. March 4, 2019.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Brittany "Tru" Kellman sometimes starts her day two hours before Jamaa Birth Village opens at 10 a.m., stashing diapers and snacks for the dozens of people who will come through the Ferguson nonprofit’s doors. She gives everyone a hug when she meets them.

Jamaa is different from other pregnancy clinics. It provides care for women of color by women of color. After traumatic experiences as a teen mom, Kellman was determined to create a better alternative for black women.

“Creating Jamaa Birth Village is a kind of a re-creation of the type of care and support I gave myself when the system failed me,” said Kellman, the center’s founder.

Washington University archaeologist John Kelly works with a student mapping research at Cahokia Mounds.
Chris King

After analyzing microscopic particles of human feces, scientists have found more evidence to support the theory that extreme-weather events may have contributed to the demise of an ancient city that built the Cahokia Mounds.

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers based in California, Wisconsin and Massachusetts reported that drought and flooding that occurred around 1150 A.D. could have caused people to leave Cahokia.

From left, Julie Pole, Lucinda Perry and Meredith Knopp joined Tuesday's talk show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Roughly 850,000 people are facing food insecurity in the state of Missouri alone – and that includes about 220,000 kids.

“We estimate roughly one in five kids in the state of Missouri [are] hungry or at risk of not knowing where their next meal is going to be coming from,” Operation Food Search’s Lucinda Perry said Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air.

Perry, who is director of strategic initiatives for the nonprofit, joined host Don Marsh alongside guests from two other St. Louis-area organizations that focus on addressing food insecurity: Food Outreach and the St. Louis Area Foodbank.

Calls for volunteers to plant or deliver produce usually draw more than a dozen people at a time to the Feed the People Garden, seen here in a 2018 photo..
Provided | Ro Kicker

Ro Kicker realized a few years ago that keeping up with a large backyard was very time-consuming.

Last spring, Kicker all but parked the lawnmower, and with the help of volunteers, began transforming the Bevo neighborhood yard into a vegetable garden. They named it the Feed the People Garden Project to reflect its mission: giving away food.

This spring, the garden area will double in size to include a small orchard. But one thing that isn’t changing is the garden’s reliance on the honor system.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said this week that that a long-anticipated program for dairy farmers will be available June 17, with payments possibly coming as soon as early July.

The water we drink is protected by federal rules, which are at the crux of a long-running fight over how far upstream that protection extends.

“Agriculture is land and water. When you’ve got control of the water, you’ve got control of the land,” said Blake Roderick with the National Waterways Conference.

Friday was opening day of catch-and-keep trout season in Missouri’s four trout parks.  For some, particularly in the Ozarks, that’s a time-honored tradition stretching back several generations. 

On Governor Mike Parson's cue, the siren at Bennett Spring State Park pierced through the frigid, clear air at 6:30 AM.  Immediately, rows of anglers standing above the falls and waist deep along the river’s edges cast in their lines. Almost instantly, many had to reach for their nets; the fish were biting.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been tasked with removing the radioactive waste from the downtown St. Louis site, which includes the Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals plant.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is close to finishing its removal of World War II-era radioactive waste from the Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals plant in downtown St. Louis.

Uranium, radium and thorium leached into the land around the plant during the 1940s and 50s when Mallinckrodt Chemical Works manufactured uranium to create atomic bombs for the Manhattan Project. The Corps of Engineers has been removing the contaminated soil since 1998.

Six decades ago, the uranium processors simply dumped waste down the drain, said Susan Adams, the project engineer for the clean-up efforts at the site.

Keith Carter, 53, waits to pick up a prescription for diabetes at Affinia Healthcare in St. Louis. Though he falls in the income gap, he's able to get his preventive care covered through Gateway to Better Health.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri likely would not have to spend any additional money to expand Medicaid to insure more low-income people, according to a report from the Washington University Center on Health Economics and Policy.

The state spends nearly $4 billion to provide Medicaid to people with disabilities, pregnant women, children and some seniors.

Researchers say adding people who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty rate – close to $17,000 annually – likely wouldn’t cost Missouri extra funds, because the state would receive increased federal funding under a Medicaid expansion.

Labadie resident and environmental activist Patricia Schuba looks at the Labadie Energy Center through binoculars.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Every Missouri utility that’s dumping waste from coal-fired power plants into massive pits in the ground has posted data that shows significant levels of nearby groundwater contamination, according to an analysis by the Washington University Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic.

Missouri has never regulated these pits, known as coal ash ponds, even though they’ve existed for more than 50 years.