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.

Earlier this year, the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka had its first litter of African painted dog puppies, giving researchers a chance to compare how they develop in captivity versus the wild.

Over several decades, people in countries like Botswana and Zimbabwe have killed African painted dogs for preying on livestock and out of fear of them. The species is sometimes nicknamed “devil dogs.” Less than 5,000 members of the endangered species roams in sub-Saharan Africa.

A Washington University study has shown that more than a dozen north St. Louis neighborhoods have high rates of childhood asthma. 

The study, soon to be published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, identified five ZIP codes in St. Louis that are hot spots for childhood asthma, meaning that they contain clusters for the city's highest rates of the illness. The report used census and health data from multiple government agencies.

The rate of hospitalizations for childhood asthma for those ZIP codes, which include downtown St. Louis, Baden and North Riverfront neighborhoods, are five times that of two ZIP codes in southwest St. Louis, which have the lowest presence of the illness.

Eastern hellbender salamanders, which have been declining all over the U.S. for decades, are doing so poorly in Missouri that they may receive federal protection.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed including Missouri’s population of eastern hellbenders on the endangered species list. Since the 1970s, the number of eastern hellbenders in the state has dropped by more than 90 percent.

As the Mississippi River continues to rise, utilities and government agencies in the St. Louis region are taking steps to protect sewers, levees and other facilities that could be affected by moderate flooding.

Above-average snowmelt and rainfall from northern parts of the Midwest have caused river levels to rise in the St. Louis region. The National Weather Service reported Thursday that the river at St. Louis is at 34.8 feet. Meteorologists expect the river to crest at 36.3 feet by late Wednesday.

In anticipation of moderate flooding, which occurs at 35 feet, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District plugged two manholes in St. Louis, in north and south St. Louis.

A federal jury in San Francisco has decided Bayer AG should pay $81 million to a California man who claimed the weedkiller Roundup caused his cancer.

The jury determined Wednesday to award California resident Edwin Hardeman $75 million in punitive damages and $5.9 million in compensatory damages. Hardeman, 70, used Roundup for three decades on his properties in Santa Rosa, California, and blamed the herbicide for causing him to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that affects the immune system.

The verdict comes before thousands of lawsuits against Roundup have yet to make it to trial. Bayer bought St. Louis-based Monsanto, Roundup’s manufacturer, last summer.

When Kenny Kinds got accepted into engineering school, it was the best and worst day of his life.

As a teenager, he knew it wasn’t his dream. It was his father’s. Kinds realized over time that he shouldn’t have pursued engineering when he received report cards full of terrible grades, which he’d hide from his parents. Eventually, a professor asked him not to come back to school.

At The Story Collider’s “Moment of Clarity” show at The Ready Room, Kinds and four others told stories about times when they’ve come to terms with painful truths.

Even though Missouri conservation officials have shipped in hundreds of prairie chickens over the last 40 years, the native species has steadily declined in the state.

As the Missouri Department of Conservation prepares to count prairie chickens this spring, the agency reported this week that the population in Missouri has dropped to fewer than 100. In the 1800s, there were hundreds of thousands of prairie chickens that roamed throughout the state. The birds that remain can only be found in small patches of prairie in western Missouri.

At the St. Louis Science Center’s GROW exhibit on agriculture, a metal box casts violet light on a dozen basil plants.

A St. Louis-based startup called MARSfarm built the growth chamber, which it calls a food computer. The company’s instructions on how to build them and program small computers to grow produce are posted online. The small team that runs MARSfarm is also teaching high school students in the St. Louis area how to build them.

The startup aims to help astronauts grow crops on Mars. But since that’s years away, the company is focused on teaching people how computer technology can be used to help address the increasing demands for food on Earth, said Peter Webb, MARSfarm’s founder and CEO.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

About 11 years ago, a small group of residents in Labadie learned that the power plant in their town owned massive pits of toxic waste known as coal ash ponds.

They discovered that the Labadie Energy Center — Ameren Missouri’s largest coal-fired power plant — has two basins packed with byproducts from coal combustion. The waste includes toxic, cancer-causing chemicals such as arsenic, mercury and lead.

For more than 50 years, utility companies have filled largely unlined coal ash ponds with harmful waste. But the state has never regulated them or required their owners to test groundwater nearby for contamination. A Washington University data analysis recently found high levels of groundwater contamination near the ponds.

As a child in India, Ramesh Raliya saw his father buy an increasing amount of fertilizer for their farm each year, even as the family’s fields shrank.

As a Washington University researcher, Raliya works to reduce the amount of fertilizer farmers need to use and the waste that comes from using it.

Raliya, the CEO of biotech startup Smart Aerosol Technologies, has been using nanotechnology — or tiny particles less than 500 nanometers — to develop “smart fertilizer.” It’s an aerosol product that slowly releases nitrogen and phosphorus when sprayed on the plant. That can limit the amount of nutrient pollution that flows from farm fields into streams.

Bridgeton Landfill LLC and other companies responsible for cleaning up the West Lake Landfill are developing a plan to study radioactive contamination in groundwater at the site.

Federal officials and community members became concerned about groundwater contamination especially after the U.S. Geological Survey released a report in 2014 that found high levels of radium in samples taken from wells at the landfill. But at the time, scientists could not conclude that it was caused by the radioactive waste at the site.

Republic Services subsidiaries Bridgeton Landfill and Rock Road Industries, the Cotter Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Energy have until June 6 to submit a plan to the Environmental Protection Agency for how they will study the groundwater.

After a failed attempt and months of delays, Ameren Missouri has received approval from the Missouri Public Service Commission to install electric-vehicle charging stations along highways in Missouri.

The utility’s $4.4 million pilot program, which will run for five years, aims to install fast-charging stations at rest stops and businesses near highway entrances. The company also will offer financial incentives to businesses that want to help install charging stations.

The effort could ease the “range anxiety” that motorists feel when they’re worried that their electric vehicle will run out of power before they reach a charging station.

Updated Feb. 13 with statement from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources –  TransCanada officials have located the part of the Keystone pipeline that was the source of an oil spill in St. Charles County last week. Workers are preparing to replace the section of the pipeline that leaked. The amount of oil spilled may be less than the 43 barrels the company originally reported, according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 

Original story from Feb. 7: 

Energy company TransCanada has shut down a part of its Keystone oil pipeline to investigate a leak that occurred in St. Charles County.

A TransCanada technician discovered crude oil near the Keystone base pipeline covering an area of approximately 4,000 square feet at 7:14 a.m. Wednesday. The leak occurred in north St. Charles County on private property, just southeast of Two Branch Marina, according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Coal-fired power plants that dump toxic waste in ponds could be required to monitor groundwater near the ponds and landfills under a plan released by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Under the plan released this month, utility companies would have to test every six months for harmful toxins that are typically found in coal ash waste, such as arsenic and mercury.

In recent years, Missouri utilities have closed or have announced that they will soon close many of their coal ash ponds. The utility can choose one of two methods: closing the pond by removing all of the waste or by leaving and capping the waste in place.

Missouri has 36 coal ash ponds, according to MDNR. Many have existed since the 1970s and 1980s and do not have liners that keep contaminants from seeping out into the environment.

Scientists who study pollinating bees and butterflies report that state laws across the U.S. aren’t doing enough to protect the very animals that help crops grow.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are developing a water filter that could help people in countries where there is not enough clean drinking water.

Engineers at WashU are combining bacteria and tiny engineered particles to create a filter that can kill harmful bacteria. The United Nations expects that by 2025, about half of the world’s population will be living in areas where water is scarce. That’s put pressure on scientists to develop water-purifying technologies to help increase global access to drinking water.

The filter under development at Wash U blends fibers generated from bacteria. They combined the fibers with graphene oxide, an extremely thin material that can convert sunlight into heat, which then kills the bacteria on the surface of the filter’s membrane.

A recent study from the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center suggests that rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels could have opposing effects on nutrients in soybeans.

About two billion people globally suffer from iron and zinc deficiencies, according to the World Health Organization. Many communities that deal with this problem rely on soybeans and other legume crops to be their source of essential nutrients. As a recent report from the White House noted, climate change will cause temperatures to rise past productive levels for corn and soybeans.

Scientists at the Danforth Center, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the U.S. Department of Agriculture examined the effects of raising carbon dioxide levels and temperatures by three degrees Celsius on soybean plants. They found that while carbon dioxide raised soybean yields and lowered iron and zinc levels, hotter temperatures lowered yields and raised mineral levels.

If weather cooperates, people all over the Western Hemisphere on Sunday will be able to see a “super blood moon” eclipse.

The total lunar eclipse begins at about 8:30 p.m. in the St. Louis area. Totality — when the Earth completely blocks the sun from the moon — will occur after 10:40 p.m., as the moon turns a dull shade of red.

The moon also will appear large, because it will be at a point in its elliptical orbit that’s close to the Earth. Total lunar eclipses happen almost every year, but this exact type of lunar eclipse happens every 18 years, said Brad Jolliff, a professor who studies lunar geochemistry at Washington University.

On a cold, rainy Saturday morning, about a dozen people hopped out of their trucks with helmets, headlights and other climbing gear at the side of a gravel road in Summersville, a small Ozark town located almost 200 miles from St. Louis.

They arrived on a mission to find five caves off the trail of the state-owned Gist Ranch Conservation Area, relying on decades-old records from the Missouri Speleological Survey.

Many records of Missouri’s caves don’t contain precise locations, since a lot of them were reported before sophisticated mapping technologies were developed. The state largely relies on recreational cavers to help track them down.

Dozens of people who live or work near the Bridgeton Landfill demanded answers late Monday from state health officials they met with to discuss a recent study on the harmful effects of odors caused by an underground fire.

The report released last September by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services found that sulfur-based compounds detected in the air near the landfill may have harmed people living and working near the landfill. Officials found that emissions from the Bridgeton Landfill between 2013 and 2016 were high enough to harm those with respiratory illnesses and chronic health conditions.

The conclusion did not surprise area residents and activists, many of whom expressed anger at the meeting the state health department hosted in Bridgeton to discuss the study. Residents have long blamed the Bridgeton Landfill for foul odors and respiratory illnesses.

Just before the new year, a Washington University professor was among a group of scientists who launched a telescope from Antarctica that could observe bright, massive objects in space, like black holes.

The international team of researchers, which included Wash U physics professor Henric Krawczynski, wanted to collect data on black holes and neutron stars, a very dense collapsed core of a giant star.

Studying such celestial phenomena helps astrophysicists test the fundamental laws of physics, Krawczynski said.

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering making changes to its 2012 mercury standards, which were responsible for major improvements to Missouri’s air quality in recent years.

In 2011, a report from Environment America showed that Missouri was one of the top mercury-polluting states in the country. Since then, mercury emissions in the state have dropped by more than 75 percent.

The EPA’s mercury regulations are largely responsible for that major drop in emissions of the toxic metal. Utility companies installed pollution-control equipment at coal-fired power plants in order to comply with strict federal standards. However, the federal agency last week announced that it’s proposing to revise the rule, based on its conclusion that it’s too costly for the coal industry.

Scientists who have studied the historic 1993 flood agree that a similar event could strike the St. Louis region again. But they disagree on how likely it could occur.

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