May 29, 2015

Missouri’s heavy rains wash bacteria into recreational waterways

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer and many people are ready to go swimming, but health officials warn heavy rains may wash harmful bacteria into swimmers favorite recreational waterways.

The Little Sac River Bridge

The Little Sac River Bridge

The Springfield-Green County Health Department and the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks have started monitoring popular swimming spots in Greene County for the presence of E. coli.  The E. coli count is an indication of fecal water contamination, which can make swimmers sick.

Kathryn Wall is the Public Health Information Administrator for the Springfield-Green County Health Department.

“We found some areas that were a little bit higher than we like, the highest was the Little Sac River, and the E. coli levels there were just a little too high for our comfort level,” said Wall.  “We’re not telling people don’t go swim or anything like that, just be more aware of what you’re getting into.”

Wall said E. coli levels are often high during periods of storm water runoff.

“Don’t go swimming after really heavy rains, that’s going to tend to really wash things out into those creeks, if the water is murky, generally it’s a place to avoid,” said Wall.  “E. coli is most common in fecal material and so in the Ozarks we do have some agriculture, so some of that is going to naturally wash away into the water streams, so usually we just kind of tell people to wait it out.”

Wall said there is a certain amount of danger when E. coli levels are high.

“Too high of concentrations can make people sick and in some cases can be fatal, especially for people very young, very old, or immune compromised for one reason or another,” said Wall.

Wall said swimmers should avoid swallowing water and swimming when sick.  Wall said it’s important to thoroughly wash hands and shower after swimming.

“There a lot of people who are at the creek all day and they take a lunch and might not think about it, they get out of the water, and go straight to their lunch, and don’t think about that bacteria that’s on their hands,” said Wall.

The most recent test results for the Springfield area can be found on the Springfield-Greene County Health Department’s website.

MU study finds atmospheric release of BPA may reach nearby waterways

A University of Missouri study says chemicals released in the air by industrial sites and wastewater treatment sites could adversely affect wildlife and humans.

Chris Kassotis and his team of researchers believe atmospheric releases of BPA may create a concern for contamination of local surface water, which may lead to human and wildlife exposure.

Chris Kassotis and his team of researchers believe atmospheric releases of BPA may create a concern for contamination of local surface water, which may lead to human and wildlife exposure. (Photo Courtesy of the University of Missouri)

Researchers from the University of Missouri have studied Missouri water quality near industrial sites that are allowed to release Bisphenol-A (BPA) into the air.  BPA is a chemical often used to make plastic containers that store food and beverages.  BPA has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s.

Chris Kassotis and his team sampled water near locations with reported atmospheric discharges of BPA as identified by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We sampled at the Crooked River in Richmond, Missouri and Flat Creek near Jenkins, Missouri,” said Kassotis.  “We also sampled near other point sources of pollution, so wastewater discharge sites in four areas of the state as well.”

Kassotis said the study revealed two key points.

“We found that the BPA concentrations of Bisphnol-A were up to ten times greater than normal near sites where there had been some sort of atmospheric discharge of the chemical and there were elevated amounts of anti-estrogenic and anti-androgenic chemicals in sites that had some sort of wastewater influence,” said Kassotis.

Kassotis said exposure to BPA may produce adverse health effects.

“BPA interacts with the endocrine system of animals and humans,” said Kassotis.  “BPA can lead to the development of breast and prostate cancers, obesity, other metabolic diseases, decreased fertility and reproductive health, neurological and behavioral effects such as ADHD and austism.”

The study was published in the journal, Science of the Total Environment.

Washington University graduates create ‘smart pillow’ to improve sleep quality

Graduates from Washington University in St. Louis are developing a “smart pillow.”

Ultradia Co-Founder and CEO Zimin Hang (Photo courtesty of Ultradia)

Ultradia Co-Founder and CEO Zimin Hang (courtesy: Ultradia)

What started out as part of a senior project became a business, a sleep optimization system called Chrona.  Chrona is a thin memory foam pad embedded with pressure sensors and tiny speakers that slips into a pillowcase.  It uses a smartphone to track sleep patterns and plays different frequency sounds to improve the quality of sleep.

Zimin Hang said the initial idea came to him in high school, but Chrona wasn’t developed until his senior year of college.

“The business actually got started at the beginning of senior year of undergraduate when we were able to connect with the engineering department and actually try to create something tangible,” said Hang.  “The Ultradia team is composed of nine members total and seven of which have graduated from Wash U.”

Ultradia has been in business for about a year and is getting a patent on the technology.  Last week, the company received nearly $100-thousand dollars through a KickStarter campaign to develop and test the ‘smart pillow’ technology.

Hang said after he graduated in 2014, he co-founded Ultradia with fellow Washington University alum Ben Bronsther.

The Chrona system includes a memory foam sensor sheet that you put in your pillowcase and an accompanying mobile app.

The Chrona system includes a memory foam sensor sheet that you put in your pillowcase and an accompanying mobile app. (Photo courtesy of Ultradia)

“Then we were really able to really focus on building the business and getting it to the stage where we could obtain funding whether that’s through KickStarter or private channels,” said Hang. “And we did have a prototype, we did have partners in the medical school to help us validate the technology.”

Hang said there are many long term benefits to improving deep sleep.

“If you can synchronize deep sleep and create a deeper state of sleep, then it translates to more restorative sleep and better memory consolidation,” said Hang.  “There’s actually studies coming out now showing a connection between losing deep sleep and then developing mental illnesses, you know, five, ten years down the road, illnesses like Alzheimer’s and dementia, and there’s so many different things that start to happen when you start losing out on deep sleep,”

Hang said there aren’t many studies or products that make use of sound during sleep.

Chrona uses an accelerometer to measure head and torso movement  and mini speakers to play sound.

Chrona uses an accelerometer to measure head and torso movement and mini speakers to play sound. (Photo courtesy of Ultradia)

“There’s a lot of products that track sleep, track fitness, track all kinds of stuff, we’re going a step beyond that by creating an active system that actively improves your sleep,” said Hang.  “We want to add to the existing literature of this specific methodology, acoustic entrainment, to really push forward this field of sleep research because it is currently a relatively new field.”

The Chorna crew is currently testing the product, with goals for its expansion.

“This isn’t just a product, it’s an entire process to really unlock and understand the intricacies of sleep and conveying our findings to the public,” said Zang.


Database of historic Missouri prison records now online

A new tool is online for those who want to research people who spent time in Missouri’s historic state prison.

Housing Unit 3 of the Missouri State Penitentiary.  (photo courtesy; Missouri State Archives)

Housing Unit 3 of the Missouri State Penitentiary. (photo courtesy; Missouri State Archives)

The Secretary of State’s office has added to its other online, searchable databases, records from the Missouri State Penitentiary. So far that includes the register of prisoners from the prison’s opening in 1836 through 1931.

“In addition to that there are a lot of mug shots and other kind of secondary and tertiary records that we’re going to add to this as well,” State Archivist John Dougan told Missourinet. “Right now there are just a handful of the mug shots from before 1928.”

Dougan says the search is very popular with genealogists, as well as those who just want to research some of the historic figures who did time at MSP, including Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd; John Reno, who led the gang that carried out the first train robbery in the U.S.; and famed socialist and prison reformer Kate Richards O’Hare.

Those who search for family members could learn interesting details about them.

“It will tell them the name, the age, the county, the crime that was committed, and you can also filter by when they were in the penitentiary,” said Dougan. “It lists the next of kin, so that helps you decide whether it’s your relative or someone else by the same name, it says whether they escaped and whether they were recaptured, and one of my personal favorites is it has a marks and scars column that lists all the tattoos and the scars and the broken bones and things like that.”

Historians think Charles Arthur Floyd didn't get the nickname "Pretty Boy" until after he spent more than 3 years at MSP for robbing a Kroger store in St. Louis.  (photo courtesy; Jefferson City Convention & Visitors Bureau;

Historians think Charles Arthur Floyd didn’t get the nickname “Pretty Boy” until after he spent more than 3 years at MSP for robbing a Kroger store in St. Louis. (photo courtesy; Jefferson City Convention & Visitors Bureau;

For example, this reporter could learn whether he is related to Fred Lear, who spent more than a year and a half at MSP starting in July, 1926, for “giving hooch, moonshine, corn whiskey away.” This was Lear’s second term at MSP. Records list the name of his father, where his father was from, that he worked as a painter, and other information that when plugged into other archives, could help determine whether there was any connection.

Some records will also tell what cell block or blocks an individual was held in, whether he or she escaped from MSP or perhaps died there, and the mug shots that exist are being added to the database.

“Sometimes if they were there for a long time period, there are actually multiple mug shots in their file where maybe they were there when they were first incarcerated, and then 15 or 20 years later there’s a mug shot of them while they’re still there, or maybe they’re back.”

When combined with other archives the Secretary of State’s office and others provide, Dougan says researchers could be led to a great deal of information.

“Prison registers will give you an inkling that you need to look in this county for a criminal court proceeding, or for newspapers about whatever may have placed the individual into the state penitentiary,” said Dougan. “It gives you clues to a lot of different record series that we have online.”

Dougan thanks the volunteers who are scanning and uploading the prison records into the database. He says it could eventually include records through the MSP’s closure in 2004.

“That’s going to be probably a long process. You have to remember that Missouri State Penitentiary was one of the largest prisons in the United States … you’re talking about a significant number of inmates,” said Dougan. “The database right now is 62,000-plus inmates but I think in the more modern period, you’re going to be talking about a database that’s two or three, maybe even four times as large as what we have for this earlier period.”

Missouri State Penitentiary has gained national and international attention in recent years as a tourist attraction. Its popularity in that regard continues to grow, in part because of some of the television shows that have filmed there in recent years including Ghost Hunters, American Pickers, Who Do You Think You Are, and Ghost Adventures.

The prison, located in Jefferson City, was the oldest in operation west of the Mississippi when it closed in September, 2004.

Try the Missouri State Penitentiary database search here.

Missouri Secretary of State candidate files voter photo ID petition

A Republican candidate for Missouri Secretary of State has filed an initiative petition aimed at requiring voters in Missouri to show photo ID at the polls.

Republican Secretary of State candidate Jay Ashcroft (picture from Facebook)

Republican Secretary of State candidate Jay Ashcroft (picture from Facebook)

Jay Ashcroft’s petition, if successful, would ask voters to change Missouri’s Constitution to require photo ID when voting. The state legislature would then have to develop the framework of voter photo ID.

The petition would have to get about 160,000 signatures in six of the state’s eight congressional districts to make it to a statewide ballot.

Ashcroft believes Missouri voters will support his petition.

“So we make sure that eligible voters have the opportunity to vote, and that the people that follow the law that vote are not disenfranchised by people that violate the law and either vote when they should not or vote more times than they should,” Ashcroft told Missourinet.

Representative Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis County)

Representative Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis County)

St. Louis Democratic state representative Stacey Newman said requiring a photo ID could disenfranchise more than 200,000 current voters who lack a photo ID, many of whom she says could have difficulty getting the documents needed for such an ID. She argues photo ID also seeks to stop a problem that doesn’t exist.

“We don’t have any documented instances, an instances in Missouri that have been prosecuted, in terms of in-person voter fraud on election day, and that’s the only kind of fraud this measure would prevent,” Newman said.

The state’s Constitution would have to be changed because the state Supreme Court found photo ID unconstitutional in 2006.

Legislative efforts to enact voter photo ID have failed. In 2011 the legislature passed both a proposed constitutional change and the statutory language of how voter photo ID would work, but the ballot language of the former was struck down in court and Governor Jay Nixon vetoed the latter.