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.

More than 280,000 properties in Missouri are at risk of flood damage, according to a nationwide study of flood zones.

That's nearly twice the number estimated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, say researchers for the First Street Foundation, a consortium of academics. They calculated the higher figure after considering the effects of climate change and parts of the state not included in FEMA's flood insurance maps.

In Illinois, 451,700 properties are at risk of flood damage, or more than twice the number FEMA estimates.

An advisory group Gov. Mike Parson appointed during the record-breaking 2019 floods has released a report that calls for strengthening levees and other structures that control floods. 

The report from state regulators, agriculture groups and navigation industry representatives also recommends that state and federal officials increase funding for levee repairs and provide financial assistance for farmers with property damage from floods. 

Environmentalists called the group’s recommendations short-sighted because the strategies are largely focused on levees than on other solutions, such as wetland restoration and buying frequently flooded properties.

Missouri health officials do not plan to publicly identify nursing homes that have residents or workers who have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the state Department of Health and Senior Services, said Friday that state law does not allow the department to name facilities. Instead, the department will disclose the number of nursing homes, other long-term care facilities and prisons in each county that have at least two coronavirus cases. 

The state’s decision to withhold names of nursing homes where there are positive cases disappoints advocates for nursing home residents and their families. Thousands of nursing home residents in Missouri and Illinois have tested positive for the virus.

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.

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