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.

At least 49 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Missouri have residents or workers who tested positive for COVID-19, according to state health officials. 

State and federal authorities last month directed nursing homes to restrict access to visitors, increase screenings for symptoms and cancel social activities to limit exposure to the coronavirus. 

The restrictions led state surveyors to stop inspecting long-term care facilities for lapses in care. The lack of government oversight makes it hard to know if facilities are taking the necessary precautions to protect residents, said Marjorie Moore, executive director of VOYCE, a St. Louis-area advocacy group for long-term care residents.

As states confirm more cases of the new coronavirus disease, local health officials are requesting that people who have tested positive and those who've come in close contact with them isolate themselves at home for 14 days.

Many states have laws that give health department directors the authority to enforce a quarantine on individuals who pose a threat to public health. And if people defy a court-ordered quarantine, they could face fines and criminal charges.

An advisory group Gov. Mike Parson appointed to study ways to address flooding has released a report that recommends state and federal agencies repair and strengthen levees, especially in rural areas hit severely by prolonged flooding this year. 

Record flooding in 2019 overtopped and breached dozens of levees along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, causing damage to many farms and communities. Some parts of western Missouri experienced flooding for as long as seven months.

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.

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.

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.

On a hot morning in Cape Girardeau, two men pulled up nets from a lake in hopes of catching alligator gar, one of the largest and most feared fish species in North America.

They’re scientists with the Missouri Department of Conservation, which has spent 12 years trying to restore the alligator gar’s dwindling population in the state. Its numbers in Missouri have fallen partly because the state doesn’t have strong regulations to prevent overfishing of the species.

Man-made structures like levees and dams have also separated the Mississippi River from the floodplain. They block the alligator gar from reaching critical habitat, said Solomon David, an aquatic ecologist at Nicholls State University in Louisiana.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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