Eli Chen | KBIA

Eli Chen

Eli Chen is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes to St. Louis after covering the eroding Delaware coast, bat-friendly wind turbine technology, mouse love songs and various science stories for Delaware Public Media/WDDE-FM. Before that, she corralled robots and citizen scientists for the World Science Festival in New York City and spent a brief stint booking guests for Science Friday’s live events in 2013. Eli grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where a mixture of teen angst, a love for Ray Bradbury novels and the growing awareness about climate change propelled her to become the science storyteller she is today. When not working, Eli enjoys a solid bike ride, collects classic disco, watches standup comedy and is often found cuddling other people’s dogs. She has a bachelor’s in environmental sustainability and creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has a master’s degree in journalism, with a focus on science reporting, from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

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.

The Loop Trolley could become insolvent unless it comes up with $200,000 in November, according to the company’s president. 

The Loop Trolley Co. requested $200,000 from the St. Louis County Transit Fund in September to keep the trolley running for the rest of the year, company President John S. Meyer Jr. said in an email Saturday. It also requested $500,000 to operate next year. 

If the company does not receive financial assistance, the trolley could stop operating as soon as Nov. 15, Meyer said. 

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.

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.

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. 

Instead of attending school today, many St. Louis-area teenagers gathered at St. Louis City Hall to urge global leaders to act on climate change. 

The rally was part of the Global Climate Strike, a wave of demonstrations around the world led by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg to demand that governments transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The strike came ahead of the United Nations' Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday.

Missouri waters are polluted with microplastics, small pieces of plastic smaller than a pencil eraser. 

Microplastics can come from large pieces of plastic that degrade into smaller pieces and consumer products, like toothpaste and cosmetics, that contain microbeads. While research has shown that plastic pollution can threaten aquatic life, scientists are still trying to understand how microplastics could affect human health. 

Understanding the impact of microplastics starts by knowing how much is in local waters, said Rachel Bartels, co-founder of the nonprofit Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper.

Scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and Washington University are studying the long-term consequences of exposing plants to high levels of carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Scientists expect levels of the greenhouse gas to continue to rise and worsen the effects of climate change over the next several decades if people do not reduce their use of fossil fuels and other natural resources.

Biologists at Washington University have discovered that an invasive species of mosquito in the U.S. has adapted to colder climates by laying eggs that can survive harsh winters.

Researchers at Wash U’s Tyson Research Center and the University of Central Florida wanted to know how the Asian tiger mosquito can survive in northern areas like Iowa and New Jersey. The species first appeared in Texas in the mid-1980s and can transmit the West Nile, dengue, Zika and chikungunya viruses. 

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.

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.

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.

A corpse flower on display at the Missouri Botanical Garden likely will not perform one of its stunning and foul-smelling blooms.

The corpse flower, one of the largest flowers in the world, typically blooms within a couple of weeks after it reveals its spadix, the spike in the middle of the plant. The plant, named Octavia, has not bloomed for more than 25 days since the spike’s emergence.

President Donald Trump has issued a disaster declaration to help residents in 20 Missouri counties who have experienced major damage from tornadoes and floods this year. 

The declaration allows homeowners to apply for grants to cover repair costs and replacement of household items not covered by insurance. Business owners and farmers also can apply for loans for property damage caused by extreme weather events. 

Missouri is among several states that have been hit hard by natural disasters this year, said John Mills, a regional spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Updated at 1:55 p.m., June 24 with comments from an attending physician at the Planned Parenthood clinic  — A circuit court judge has allowed Planned Parenthood in St. Louis to continue providing abortions until late Friday afternoon.

A ruling Judge Michael Stelzer made Monday would allow Planned Parenthood to make its case for keeping its license to the state Administrative Hearing Commission, which resolves disputes between state regulators and private entities.

Updated at 2:15 p.m., June 21 with comments from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and the state health department director — The only abortion provider in Missouri has lost its license, but the clinic’s future remains unclear after a court hearing Friday morning in St. Louis.

Citing patient safety concerns, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on Friday declined to renew a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic’s license to perform abortions. Officials said some abortions were not performed properly and failed.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer said the injunction he previously issued keeping the clinic open will remain in effect for now. It’s not known when he will make a final decision.

When Amy Papian bought her three-bedroom house in University City 31 years ago, she thought she’d never leave.

Her bedroom had a large window that overlooked the backyard — and in the summertime, the sweet smell of honeysuckle drifted inside the house. 

But then four floods invaded her home over 15 years, and she decided she’d had enough. After the last flood in 2008, a neighbor’s body washed up in her backyard. Papian and her daughters moved out, and the city purchased their home through a voluntary buyout program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

At the end of 2018, Green Finned Hippy Farm in Pocahontas, Illinois, decided to stop selling its meat and poultry at farmers markets.

The reason, according to co-owner Alicia Davis, is she and her partner Joshua were spending a large amount of time driving their products to markets and explaining the farm’s practices, but only a few patrons would actually buy anything. They decided to pursue other ways of reaching customers, which included joining the Missouri Coalition for the Environment’s Known & Grown campaign that launched this month.

Recent flooding could have contaminated more than 140,000 private wells in Missouri, according to an estimate by the National Ground Water Association.

However, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services only has about 130,000 registered in its database, said Jeff Wenzel, chief of the department’s environmental epidemiology bureau.

Floodwaters can spread pathogenic bacteria, like E. coli and chemicals used in home gardening and agriculture. During large floods, water can rise over wells and expose private water supplies to contaminants.

Andrea Mcmanus and her three children had lived in their apartment in Grafton for less than six months before they evacuated to escape the rising Mississippi River floodwaters.

They left on March 22, as the flood overtook Grafton and began rising downstream in St. Louis. The Mississippi has been above flood stage at St. Louis for more than 80 days and last weekend surpassed the 1973 level, the second highest on record.

Many residents, government officials and scientists compare it to the Great Flood of 1993, when the river crested at 49.6 feet, the highest flood on record for the St. Louis region. Some residents worry that it could surpass that height.

Updated at 1:30 p.m., June 6 with revised river crest forecast from the National Weather Service — The Mississippi River at St. Louis is expected to crest at 45.8 feet by Saturday afternoon. 

A group of tourists posed for a selfie under the Gateway Arch midday Wednesday, while just a few feet away, murky floodwaters from the Mississippi crept up the riverfront steps.

Flooding has continued unabated for more than 80 days along rivers in the St. Louis area. Most major waterways, including the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers, are expected to crest Friday with peak floodwaters in some regions rivaling records set in 1993.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has scrapped its proposal to regulate disposal sites for coal-fired power plants, a plan that environmentalists and federal regulators heavily criticized.

The plan would have required utilities monitor groundwater and clean up contamination near ponds and landfills that store byproducts of coal combustion, which contain toxic chemicals like mercury, arsenic and lead. Environmental groups, residents near power plants and the Environmental Protection agency wrote letters to the state agency earlier this year saying that the plan won’t address groundwater contamination.

DNR officials chose not to submit the proposed regulations to the Environmental Protection Agency because the federal agency did not give clear guidance on enforcing cleanup at the sites, said Chris Nagel, DNR’s solid waste director.

Among the volunteers and workers moving furniture, broken lumber and fallen trees at Hawthorne Park apartments in Jefferson City last weekend, three engineers with a large remote control watched a drone fly over a building that was missing a chunk of its roof.

A team of engineering professors and students from the Missouri University of Science and Technology began inspecting damages after a violent tornado struck parts of the state capital last Wednesday. For several years, some have been studying ways to design houses in Tornado Alley states like Missouri to withstand extreme weather events.

Engineering researchers from the Missouri University of Science and Technology are spending several days in Jefferson City to study the destruction caused by a tornado that battered the city late Wednesday.

Missouri S&T engineering professor Grace Yan and her graduate students began Thursday to interview residents and capture drone footage of the damages. Her research has focused on designing buildings to become more resistant to tornadoes.

There have been many examples of damages in Jefferson City that are unique to tornadoes, such as roofs being torn off, Yan said.

U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley and Roy Blunt want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop focusing on protecting wildlife in the Missouri River and instead focus on flood control and navigation, a move that environmentalists are calling misguided.

In 2004, the Corps of Engineers changed its management strategy for the Missouri River to protect two endangered species of birds and one fish, the pallid sturgeon. However, landowners near the river have alleged that prioritizing wildlife over flood protection has caused them extensive property damage from major floods.

NASA scientists are lighting flames on the International Space Station to help a Washington University engineer learn how soot forms from fire.

The NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio is conducting the flame experiments remotely. The space agency is sending data to researchers who are exploring ways to eliminate soot so that fuel can be burned more cleanly.

Washington University in St. Louis will become the anchor of a regional effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop climate change.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on Thursday the creation of the Midwest Collegiate Climate Summit at a press conference in downtown St. Louis. The summit, which would take place at Wash U in 2020, would involve universities, local governments, nonprofits and businesses.

Community organizers in Dutchtown are struggling to stop people from outside of the south St. Louis neighborhood from dumping construction debris, mattresses and excessive amounts of trash in alleys and vacant lots.

The Dutchtown South Community Corporation has been working to reduce illegal dumping in the neighborhood through an Environmental Protection Agency-funded campaign since 2016. There’s also been an effort to address illegal dumping city wide. Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office launched its Clean Up St. Louis initiative last year to improve trash-collection services.

The Environmental Protection Agency has decided to conduct additional tests for radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill, which would delay its excavation of the Superfund site.

When the EPA region that oversees Missouri released its final plan last September to remove 70% of the radioactivity at the site, officials said the cleanup would begin after they spent 18 months planning how to remove the World War II-era waste.

EPA officials announced this week that parties responsible for the landfill signed an agreement with the agency to design the excavation plan. Because of the additional testing, the cleanup won’t begin for two and a half years, EPA spokesperson Ben Washburn said.

Engineers at Washington University are studying the substances that make mussels cling to boats and ships to develop stronger, waterproof types of glue.

Many super glue products and other adhesives on the market are ineffective when they become wet. Researchers want to know how the proteins in mussels allow them to stick to any surface despite being in very wet environments.

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