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.

No one has seen the flower of the 60-foot-tall Karomia gigas tree in Tanzania; scientists at the Missouri Botanical Garden hope they’ll be the first.

For decades, botanists at the garden have been helping the Tanzanian government prevent rare and threatened trees from becoming extinct. Scientists recently started growing one of those trees, the Karomia gigas, in a greenhouse at the garden. There are 19 members of the species in the wild.

The garden’s scientists are cultivating the trees in St. Louis because conservationists have had no luck growing them in Tanzania. The seeds are extremely vulnerable to fungus and insect predators, said Roy Gereau, the garden’s Tanzania program director.

State and local government officials in Missouri are offering to collect natural Christmas trees to be turned in to mulch or fish habitat.

After Christmas, residents of St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County will be able to drop off trees at various parks and recycling centers. Most trees collected by St. Louis’ forestry division and St. Charles County will be processed through a chipper and turned into mulch that residents can use for home gardening.

St. Louis County is working with the Missouri Department of Conservation to collect trees for fish habitat.

The Environmental Protection Agency is giving the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District a $48 million loan to build pump stations and sewers to help divert stormwater runoff in St. Louis County.

The federal loan funds nearly half of the $97 million cost to construct the series of wastewater projects that will be connected to the Deer Creek Sanitary Tunnel. The 4-mile underground tunnel, which would run through Webster Groves, Brentwood, Richmond Heights and other nearby municipalities, is designed to collect and separate wastewater from sewage. MSD began building the tunnel earlier this year.

State and federal officials in Illinois will use a $95.2 million grant to stabilize levees that protect Metro East communities.

The St. Louis Army Corps of Engineers and local levee districts have been trying over the last decade to prevent water from seeping under and behind the five levees that protect Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties in Illinois. Scientists expect flood risks along the Mississippi River to rise due to climate change and hard structures, such as levees, that push water to surrounding communities.

The Corps of Engineers and local levee district officials recently restored the levees’ ability to protect against 100-year floods, which have a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year. The latest federal investment through the Water Resources Development Act will strengthen the levee system to the 500-year level, which protects against floods that have a 0.2 percent chance of happening in any given year.

The last remaining elephant at Grant’s Farm has died this week, following the deaths of two others this month.

Max, a 14-year-old African elephant, died on Wednesday night. Two elephants, Toby and Mickey died earlier this month. Grant’s Farm did not release a cause of death for them, but Mickey had lived with a brain tumor. Another elephant, Bud, died in March due to pneumonia. 

Grant’s Farm did not release a cause of death for Max. 

Conservation groups are looking for volunteers to contribute their birdwatching skills for the 119th annual Christmas bird count.

Between now and Jan. 5, experienced birders around the world are holding events where people can help count local birds. In Missouri, there are 20 counts taking place in areas that are good for observing wildlife, such as state parks and wildlife refuges.

Citizen surveys like the Christmas bird count can help scientists track bird populations, said Jean Favara, conservation manager at the Audubon Center at Riverlands in West Alton.

Engineer Brooke Harper has spent the last four and a half years making sure that the Mars lander InSight would make a graceful descent on the red planet. When the day finally came on Nov. 26 for InSight to land, she recalled feeling “extremely tense” in Mission Control.

When the announcer declared that InSight had landed, engineers and scientists celebrated. Harper and her colleague, Gene Bonfiglio, performed a touchdown dance, which was caught on NASA’s livestream camera. The elaborate routine has drawn widespread public attention to the mission.

Missouri’s elk herd has grown so much in recent years that state conservationists want to allow hunters the chance to hunt them.

The Missouri Department of Conservation is hosting three public meetings this week to take feedback on a limited elk hunting season that could take place in 2020. There are 170 elk that roam in Reynolds, Shannon and Carter counties. State officials want the population to grow to a minimum of 200 elk in Missouri before they allow hunting.

Hunting would help manage the elk population and reduce conflicts between elk and humans, said Barbara Keller, the department’s cervid program supervisor.

The stuff we’re throwing into recycling bins is getting so dirty that it’s driving up costs and forcing recycling companies to shut down.

In St. Louis, several municipal governments began sending their recycling to other processing plants. O’Fallon officials told residents they were no longer going to pick up paper and cardboard.

China, which has long accepted a large portion of paper and plastics from western countries, last year started rejecting paper and plastic from the United States. That’s because single-stream recycling contains too much contamination, such as food residue and rain-soaked paper.

A national climate report released last Friday from 13 federal agencies predicts increased flooding and hotter temperatures in Midwestern states like Missouri — and that unless carbon emissions are significantly reduced, changing climate patterns could be costly.

Residents in a Maryland Heights subdivision are dropping off their food scraps near the street for composting in the first Missouri program to collect food waste at the curb.

In June, composting company Total Organics Recycling, Republic Services and St. Louis County began the service to residents of the Brookside subdivision. The program is funded by a $26,340 municipal waste grant made possible by landfill tipping fees. The grant pays the cost of providing collection bins and having Republic Services haul the waste to Total Organics Recycling’s facility in Maryland Heights. There is no cost to residents. 

The city of St. Louis and the U.S. Geological Survey this month are starting a study to determine if filling demolition sites with clean soil instead of building materials can help address one of St. Louis’ biggest environmental problems: sewage overflows.

Typically, contractors working for the city fill the basement with concrete and other materials from the demolished building. In north St. Louis, they recently began filling some basements with soil that’s been tested for environmental toxins. City and federal officials want to compare how well the two methods can absorb stormwater runoff.

U.S. Reps. Mike Bost and Ann Wagner bucked a national trend to survive tough Democratic challenges Tuesday.

The two Republicans will return to a House that Democrats control after the GOP lost a number of other seats across the country.

Scientists are concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced limits on dicamba herbicide use will not be effective in preventing widespread crop damage.

The federal agency last week approved the use of dicamba-based herbicides, such as Bayer’s XtendiMax, until 2020. However, it noted several restrictions in attempts to curb the herbicide’s off-target movement that has ruined more than 1.1 million acres of soybeans in the United States this year

Firefighters in north St. Louis County extinguished a surface fire that occurred at the Bridgeton Landfill on Friday evening.

It took two and a half hours for crews from the Pattonville and Robertson fire districts to put out the fire, which began approximately at 5 p.m. Because gas from Bridgeton Landfill’s infrastructure kept refueling the fire, firefighters had to switch to a tactic that required increasing the water supply, said Matt LaVanchy, assistant chief for the Pattonville Fire Protection District.

As waste processor Resource Management terminates its single stream recycling services, some St. Louis area municipalities will begin sending recyclable metal, paper and plastics to new destinations Thursday.

In August, Resource Management informed its customers that it would stop accepting single-stream recycling at the end of October. Contamination in recyclable materials led China to impose stricter policies on the materials it would accept, which raised costs for processors like Resource Management.

Since then, municipalities contracted with the company have sought other options to maintain residential recycling services. Kirkwood and Brentwood signed contracts with Republic Services, which processes recycling for much of the St. Louis area.

The City of St. Louis has received a $2.5 million in technical support from Bloomberg Philanthropies to bolster efforts to cut carbon pollution from its buildings.

St. Louis was selected to participate in the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, a program that works with cities on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The program will largely focus on helping St. Louis lower carbon emissions produced by buildings, which contribute nearly 80 percent of the city’s carbon pollution.

As a gay black woman with working-class roots, LaShana Lewis doesn’t look like a typical computer programmer.

Lewis spent the better part of two decades trying to achieve her dreams of working with computers. And she did, after being one of the first students to graduate from LaunchCode, a St. Louis nonprofit that trains and places people without a traditional computer-science background in the tech sector.

But only a couple years after she scored a systems engineer job at Mastercard, she quit to start her own consulting business. She draws on her experiences as a minority in her field to help companies hire and retain women and people of color.

Bridgeton Landfill LLC, owner of the West Lake Landfill, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against pharmaceutical company Mallinckrodt to help pay for the cost of cleaning up radioactive waste at the federal Superfund site.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a $205 million remediation plan for the West Lake Landfill last month. The strategy involves excavating about 70 percent of the site’s radioactivity and capping the rest. The costs of cleaning up Superfund sites fall on parties responsible for the contamination. For the West Lake Landfill, that includes Republic Services’ subsidiary Bridgeton Landfill, Rock Road Industries, the Cotter Corporation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The suit, filed in federal court in St. Louis, seeks a jury trial to compel Mallinckrodt to pay the costs of cleaning up the West Lake Landfill.

Animal conservationists near St. Louis are planning to breed red wolves, the rarest species of wolves on the planet, at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.

The Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, which provides refuge for endangered wolf species, has been working with A-State to raise awareness of red wolves in recent year. The species became A-State’s mascot in 2008, after it retired its former mascot, the Indian Family.

Conservationists and university officials plan to build a red wolf breeding center in the next three years to house four or five pairs of wolves. Red wolves were once found in many parts of the eastern U.S., but only 30 wolves remain in the wild, on the North Carolina coast. About 200 live in captivity in sanctuaries such as the Endangered Wolf Center.

Chanté Summers was expecting an uneventful day when she walked into her chemistry laboratory three years ago at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Instead, she found herself putting bandages on a bleeding labmate who caused an explosion after mishandling chemicals.

At the Story Collider’s “Uncharted Territory” show at the Ready Room this month, Summers and others shared stories about how they navigated challenges in their lives. Whether it was trying to protect a package of fruit flies on a flight to Hawaii or dealing with depression after surviving cancer, every storyteller talked about how they found empowerment through their experiences.

Engineers in Missouri are taking on a challenge that could make owning an electric car far more convenient — building a charging station that fully charges up a car in 10 minutes.

Electric cars can help reduce carbon emissions and the human contribution to climate change. But the time it takes to charge an electric vehicle’s battery represents a major roadblock to owning one. The fastest available technology is the Tesla Supercharger, which takes an hour to fully charge a car.

The U.S. Department of Energy has given $2.9 million to a team of engineers develop fast-charging electric vehicle stations. The team includes engineers from Missouri S&T, Ameren Illinois, battery maker LG Chem Michigan and Bitrode, a St. Louis battery testing company. The goal is to develop a charger that works almost as fast as a gas station, said Jonathan Kimball, an electrical and computer engineer at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

The Nature Conservancy is rebuilding eroded streambanks in Missouri to reduce sediment pollution, which is one of the largest sources of water contamination in the state.

Since the summer of 2017, conservationists have been working with environmental engineers to stabilize streambanks at LaBarque Creek near Pacific. They're also doing so along the Elk River in southwest Missouri, where sediments have polluted the watershed. Through bioengineering techniques, they repair the streams by using deep-rooted native plants, biodegradable coconut fibers and other natural materials, such as wood, to keep the banks from depositing sediments into the water.

When retired biologist George Smith picked up the phone at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, he wasn’t expecting it to be the Swedish Academy.

“It’s kind of a common prank for your friends to put on a fake Swedish accent and tell you that you won,” Smith said. “I thought maybe it was a joke but the line was so scratchy and there was so much interference, I thought nah, it wasn’t one of my friends. They wouldn’t have such a bad connection.”

Through the phone call, Smith, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri-Columbia, learned that he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing a method called phage display in the 1980s. Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria. Smith used them to create a tool that would help identify antibodies, molecules in the body that identify invading pathogens, that would be the most useful for binding to molecules that are associated with certain diseases.

For the next three years, Missouri conservation officials are bringing 300 ruffed grouse into the state from Wisconsin in hopes of raising the native bird’s population.

The ruffed grouse is a stout-bodied, medium-sized bird with white, grey or brown feathers and mostly spends its time on the ground. In Missouri, the ruffed grouse lives mainly in the River Hills region, located in an east-central part of the state that covers Callaway, Montgomery and Warren counties. 

While the ruffed grouse have fairly healthy populations in the northern parts of the United States, its Missouri population has declined in recent years. In 2011, the state suspended the hunting season for the bird, in place since the 1980s.

Updated at 12:10 p.m. Sept. 28 — The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its plan to remove radioactive waste from the West Lake Landfill Superfund site.

The chosen solution will remove about 70 percent of the site’s radioactivity and dispose of the waste at an out-of-state facility. The $205 million plan is similar, though less expensive, to what officials proposed in February.

As municipalities in the St. Louis region look for ways to continue single-stream recycling, a regional task force plans to educate residents on how to help sustain the services.

Since China imposed stricter standards in May on the amount of contamination allowed in mixed recyclables, processing companies have been forced to sell materials at a loss. That’s led Resource Management, a company that processes about 45 percent of residential single stream recycling in the St. Louis area, to suspend curbside recycling pickup on Nov. 1.

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