Health & Science | WABE 90.1 FM

Health & Science

Science news

Gerry Broome / Associated Press

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is scheduled to vote on new coal ash rules on Wednesday. Coal ash is a byproduct from burning coal for electricity, and it can contain toxic materials.

The federal government began regulating how coal ash is stored last year, after a couple of catastrophic spills in other states.

The state’s proposed rule goes beyond the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s, said Jeff Cown, chief of the land protection branch at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Dr. Jonathan Eisentat is the GBI's chief medical examiner. He says the number of heroin-related deaths is doubling, so there's a need for more investigators and more morgue space.
Alison Guillory / WABE

More than 1,200 people in Georgia died of a drug overdose in 2014, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To keep up with the increase in these cases, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Medical Examiner's office in south DeKalb County is spending $4.5 million to expand its morgue and office space.

Morgue Space

John Bazemore / Associated Press

The drought covering most of Georgia is expanding, and will likely continue through the end of the year. Much of metro Atlanta is in "extreme drought," the second-worst category on the U.S. Drought Monitor's scale. It's even worse in the northwest corner of the state, where the drought is considered "exceptional."

U.S. Food and Drug Administration via AP, File

In this "Medical Minute" segment, WABE senior correspondent Jim Burress and medical analyst Dr. Ford Vox talk about a concerning new "trend" in healthcare: the discovery that some of the complicated devices we rely on to help save lives can sometimes spread infections between patients.

In this "Medical Minute" segment, WABE senior correspondent Jim Burress and medical analyst Dr. Ford Vox talk about the current predicament in Alzheimer's disease research and treatment.

We're getting better and better at predicting this common form of dementia, even 15 or 20 years before clinical symptoms develop. But treatment lags behind our growing knowledge and ability to detect the problem.

Maria Saporta

Grady Hospital dedicated the Marcus Trauma and Emergency Center on Oct. 5 in recognition of philanthropy of Billi and Bernie Marcus, a co-founder of the Home Depot.

In all, the Marcus couple have given a total of $50 million to Grady, which also went to the establishment of the Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center.

The biggest disappointment in Bernie Marcus’ life was when he was accepted to Harvard’s medical school, because his family could not afford the $10,000 tuition.

Molly Samuel / WABE

Georgia and Florida go to court later this month to argue over water that they’ve been fighting about for decades. This week, the states laid out the cases they plan to make.

In its pre-trial brief, Florida says that Georgia uses too much water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers for Atlanta homes and businesses and for south Georgia farms.

Florida says that’s killing its oyster industry in the Apalachicola Bay, hurting the economy there, and affecting other animals. So it’s asking for a cap – a limit on how much water Georgia can consume.

Ali Guillory / WABE

Now that it's fall, birds are passing through Atlanta on their way south for the winter, but a lot of birds will never make it.

Hundreds of millions of birds die each year in the U.S. when they hit buildings. A project lead by Atlanta Audubon aims to slow that trend here by documenting some of the deaths.

To find birds that died crashing into buildings in Buckhead, Atlanta Audubon Society conservation director Adam Betuel starts looking before dawn. That’s so he can find them before groundskeepers clean them up.

On Tuesday, Georgia Power asked the Public Service Commission to lower fuel rates for customers because of lower natural gas prices.
David Tulis / Associated Press

Georgia Power says it's making progress on closing its coal ash ponds. Of its 29 ponds around the state, three that are located near rivers or streams have been emptied of ash completely, according to the utility.

Mark Schlueter

Beekeepers are still losing honey bees to colony collapse disorder. Though the crisis isn’t as bad as it was just a few years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it’s still bad enough that beekeepers are not able to recover what they’ve lost. So scientists are looking to use other kinds of bees to help pollinate crops. They have plenty to work with: there are more than 4,000 species of bees native to North America.

‘Bee Eden’

In this "Medical Minute" segment, WABE senior reporter Jim Burress and medical analyst Dr. Ford Vox talk about kidney stones, some common ways to lessen your risk for them, and one very uncommon “treatment” you can find at Disney World: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. 


Mitchell et al. Validation of a Functional Pyelocalyceal Renal Model for the Evaluation of Renal Calculi Passage While Riding a Roller Coaster. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2016 Oct 1;116(10):647-52.

In this "Medical Minute" segment, WABE senior reporter Jim Burress and medical analyst Dr. Ford Vox discuss the problem of osteoporosis and one of its most severe consequences: spinal compression fractures.

Collapsed back bones (vertebrae) can be very painful and become progressive due to curvature of the spine. There’s debate about what to do about a single new collapsed vertebra. The pain gradually improves for many people with a conservative approach, but a once-disfavored intervention, vertebroplasty, is rising in popularity again, this time with better evidence.

The Georgia Tech Urban Honey Bee project studies how bees are able to live in cities.
Dan Raby / WABE

Three Georgia Tech professors accepted a Golden Goose Award at the Library of Congress last Thursday. It's awarded to federally-funded research that seems silly but has a significant impact.

In 1988, Georgia Tech professors began research on how bees collect nectar as a colony by tracking 4,000 honeybees.

harum.koh / Wikimedia

Seasonal allergy sufferers already know this, but fall allergy season is upon us. A recent study from Emory looks at why there has been more tree pollen in recent years in the fall, and it lays some of the blame on one specific tree, an import from Asia.

Emory School of Medicine allergist and professor Marissa Shams found a pattern as she was reviewing local allergy numbers with doctors from Atlanta Allergy. 

“We noticed that the amount of tree pollen had substantially increased,” she said. And the increase was especially marked since 2009. 

Brynn Anderson / Associated Press

In Alabama, the clean-up near the Cahaba River south of Birmingham continues, following the pipeline leak that lead to Atlanta’s gas shortage.

The effects on the environmentally-sensitive area could have been worse, said David Butler, riverkeeper of the Cahaba Riverkeeper organization. Most of the hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline went into a man-made retention pond near a strip mine, he said, and none has been detected in the river itself.

Greg Bluestein / Associated Press

Next month, Georgia goes to court in a contentious battle with Florida over water, the latest in the long-running water wars. Now there is a new wrinkle: Earlier this month state officials declared a drought in 53 Georgia counties, including all of Atlanta.

Florida is suing Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court, saying not enough water makes it down the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers to Florida's Apalachicola Bay.

The states have been fighting for decades – sometimes with Alabama too – over the water they share and whether there's enough of it to go around.

Andre Penner / AP Photo

Georgia Public Health officials say they’re ready for action, should the Zika virus start spreading through local transmissions.

Georgia is currently in peak mosquito season with the end expected in late October.

DPH’s Dr. James O’Neal, speaking after the agency’s monthly board meeting on Tuesday, said that, should the virus start spreading here, the state has teams of people ready to rapidly deploy to areas where cases pop up.

Alison Guillory / WABE

From its headwaters near the Georgia Dome and the Atlanta University Center to where it empties into the Chattahoochee River near the Perimeter, all of Proctor Creek is inside the city of Atlanta. And city life can be hard on a creek: Big storms make it flood; sewers overflow into it; there’s illegal dumping; and when it rains, the water running off the roads carries trash and chemicals into the creek.

 Platanthera integrilabia (white fringeless orchid) on private property in Carroll County.
Alison Guillory / WABE

The white fringeless orchid grows in a handful of places in the Southeast. Only about 100 of the rare flowers bloom in Georgia in any given year. Now the plant is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The flowers, also known as monkeyface orchids, are threatened by habitat loss, and, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, by collectors. The plant is now listed as "threatened."

Georgia Tech Computer Science Assistant Professor Bistra Dilkina worked with three student interns during this summer's Data Science for Social Good internship program. She helped students develop an online tool for New American Pathways.
Tasnim Shamma / WABE

It can take a while for refugees to get the paperwork they need to get a driver’s license or be able to afford a car. So they need easy access to public transit, supermarkets, schools and low rents. So the city of Clarkston, just outside Interstate-285 in DeKalb County, is an ideal location.

But Clarkston is just 1.4 square miles and it’s running out of space as refugees decide they actually want to stay there.

The resettlement agency New American Pathways helps place more than 500 refugees in metro Atlanta each year. Many end up in Clarkston.

Courtesy of Dr. Charles Menzel / Georgia State University

Professor Michael Beran puts on a lab coat to work with Sherman, one of Georgia State University’s three chimpanzees. The primates live in a jungle gym-like enclosure, which includes indoor and outdoor areas, at the university’s Language Research Center in south DeKalb County.

In the indoor section, Beran invites Sherman over and sets up a test using carrots and bananas; the sight of the latter makes the chimp grunt loudly. Beran covers up each food with a differently colored container and has Sherman pick which one he wants.

In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo, illegally trafficked leopard and tiger heads stored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Law Enforcement fill the shelves of a warehouse inside the National Wildlife Property Repository in Commerce City, Colo.
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

Conservation officials and environmental advocates cracking down on wildlife trafficking unveiled a public campaign at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Wednesday.

The illegal wildlife trade is pretty broad; it includes ivory, rhino horns, shark fins and sea turtle shells. Live animals get trafficked, too: reptiles, tropical fish, birds.

“There's people who are sort of professional smugglers,” said Peter Knights, executive director of the conservation group WildAid. But regular people unintentionally support trafficking, too, he said:


Public health researchers say health insurers Cigna and Humana are overcharging for HIV treatments. Both companies offer plans under Georgia's Affordable Care Act exchange.

Doctor Melanie Thompson is with the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta, which, along with Harvard’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, filed federal discrimination complaints against the companies after looking into their HIV medication coverage in 2014 and 2015.

Toby Talbot / Associated Press

Health officials are warnings doctors and patients about the potentially fatal consequences of mixing prescription painkillers and popular sedatives like Valium and Xanax, which can lead to breathing problems, coma and death.

The Food and Drug Administration said it will add a boxed warning — the strongest type — to more than 400 medications, including opioid painkillers, opioid-containing cough medicines and benzodiazepines, which are used to treat anxiety, insomnia and other psychological conditions.

Horace Cort / Associated Press

Southern accents differ depending on where in the South you're from, for instance, plus race, class and age. Researchers at the University of Georgia are starting a project to catalogue the South’s many accents.  

In the past, UGA professors have studied what words people in different places around the country use – like "pop," "soda" or "Coke." Now, they're looking beyond word choice and into pronunciation in the South.

Here are different Southerners saying the word "white" from UGA’s collection.

Courtesy of Maria Saporta

The Task Force for Global Health – the largest nonprofit based in Georgia – received a significant endorsement this month. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation awarded the Task Force with its 2016 Humanitarian Prize – which comes with a $2 million grant.

One of Atlanta’s best kept secrets is the Task Force for Global Health – an organization that has been busy saving lives around the world for the past 32 years.

But the secret is becoming more widely known with the prestigious $2 million prize from the Hilton Foundation.

David Goldman / Associated Press

Georgia health officials painted a dire pictures of the state’s rural hospital network for state lawmakers Monday, with more cuts predicted as the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, continues to roll out.

About 40 percent of the state's hospitals lost money in 2014, according to the Georgia Hospital Association's most recent figures.

Testifying in front of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, the association's Ethan James was asked if that number might now be closer to half of hospitals operating in the red.

Ozzie, a shorthaired terrier mix, was the only dog in the experiments that chose food over his owner’s praise 100 percent of the time. “Ozzie was a bit of an outlier,” Berns says, “but Ozzie’s owner understands him and still loves him.”
Courtesy of Gregory Berns

A few years ago, Emory neuroscientist Gregory Berns had what he calls "a crazy idea" to see if dogs could be trained to sit still for brain scans in order to find out what they might be thinking.

Berns began the "Dog Project" after more than two decades of studying decision-making in humans.

Berns' latest experiment, with 15 dogs from Atlanta, found that dogs are motivated less by how many treats you give them and more by social rewards like praise. 

David Goldman / Associated Press

Between 35 and 50 of Georgia's struggling rural hospitals could qualify for millions under some new tax credits that go into effect next year.

Department of Community Health Commissioner Clyde Reese said his agency has finalized the list of hospitals eligible for contributions starting in 2017, the result of a new law passed by the legislature earlier this year.

Through 2019, people and companies who make those contributions to these hospitals would get a state tax credit. Total contributions are capped at $50 million in 2017, $60 million in 2018 and $70 million in 2019.

Tempers are rising in America, along with the temperatures.

Two decades ago, the issue of climate change wasn't as contentious. The leading U.S. Senate proponent of taking action on global warming was Republican John McCain. George W. Bush wasn't as zealous on the issue as his Democratic opponent for president in 2000, Al Gore, but he, too, talked of regulating carbon dioxide.

Then the Earth got even hotter , repeatedly breaking temperature records. But instead of drawing closer together, politicians polarized.