Rae Ellen Bichell

Rae Ellen Bichell reports for the Mountain West News Bureau out of KUNC in Colorado. 

Before joining the team, she covered everything from Ebola to butterfly evolution and space toilets as a science reporter for NPR. She also tried freelancing for a couple years in Helsinki, Finland, originally under a Fulbright grant.

Now based in northern Colorado, she spends her free time reading, playing indoor soccer (not very well) and doing a crazy sport called canyoneering. 

You can reach Rae Ellen at rae.bichell@kunc.org.

A group of chemicals called PFAS are common in firefighting foams, as well as household products like rain jackets, pizza boxes and non-stick pots and pans. They've been in use since the 1940s and have come to be known as "forever chemicals" because they persist in the environment.

PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have made their way into watersheds around the world, and as a recent study found, even into raindrops. Some are considered a threat to human health. 

Researchers including Jens Blotevogel, an environmental engineer at Colorado State University, are studying ways to get rid of the compounds. 

Three children are being treated at a Denver-area hospital for measles, adding to the more than 1,200 cases of the disease reported this year nationwide. Some Mountain West states have already seen measles cases this year, including Colorado, Idaho, and Nevada.

Measles is very contagious, so when a case is identified, it kicks local health officials into high gear, rapidly searching for anyone the patients may have come into contact with. 

This post was updated at 8:30 p.m. with additional information.

About 60 people gathered at the Colorado Capitol Monday for the third and final day of a summit on vaccination. It featured a series of presentations full of reasons why people should not get their children immunized.

Michele Ames says that's a problem.

"The world consensus is that vaccines are safe and effective and they save lives. Period," said Ames, a spokesperson for Colorado Vaccinates, a coalition of groups including Children's Hospital Colorado and the local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics aimed at increasing vaccination rates in the state.

Nationwide, more and more people are surviving childhood. But researchers found those improvements might not be as big in rural areas. 

A report last year found that child mortality rates had improved. In fact, nationally, it looked like the country had met its 2020 goals. But then researchers took a closer look.

There’s wide variability in state policies about what care to give to women who are pregnant and behind bars. That’s according to a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative, a research and advocacy organization focused on mass incarceration.

“Women's populations in prisons have been growing faster than men's for quite awhile now,” said Wanda Bertram, a spokesperson with the Prison Policy Initiative. “So it's a good time to start looking at how women's experiences differ from men's while they're inside.”

A report out this week found that people seeking mental health treatment go out-of-network more than they do for primary care. Essentially, that means that for consumers, it’s often more expensive to treat mind than body, and the disparity seems to have gotten worse in recent years. 

A report out this week shows a significant number of Americans don't have access to basic services like running water. And many of the places that lack plumbing are in the Mountain West.

“Small pockets of communities without complete plumbing exist in every state,” write the researchers, who also say the gap isn’t driven by people who choose to live off-the-grid, but instead by a lack of basic infrastructure. 

A growing number of pharmacists across the country are now offering birth control directly to patients -- no doctor’s visit required. That includes pharmacists at grocery stores in the Kroger chain -- like Fred Meyers, King Soopers, City Market and Smith’s -- in addition to Albertson’s and Safeway stores.

Updated Monday, November 18, 2019 to include a visualization of pharmacy closure in the Mountain West.

A national study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that 1 in 8 pharmacies closed between the years 2009 and 2015. 

Counterintuitively, the total number of pharmacies is growing. 

“So you see kind of a net growth at a national level,” said Dima Qato, an associate professor at the University of Illinois College of Pharmacy and an author of the study. “But at the local, at the county, level there is variation. Some areas are not experiencing growth. Some counties are not only experiencing closures but they’re experiencing net loss.”

Governors of Western states have signed letters supporting a pair of bills that would compensate more people who were exposed to radiation from nuclear weapons testing.

Chronic wasting disease is continuing to pop up in deer and elk populations around the Mountain West. But researchers have found one way to help prevent hunters from further spreading the neurodegenerative disease: household bleach.

Wildland firefighters use fire retardant — the red stuff that air tankers drop — to suppress existing blazes. But Stanford researchers have developed a gel-like fluid they say makes fire retardant last longer and could prevent wildfires from igniting in the first place if applied to ignition-prone areas.

Reservoirs can get messy after a big wildfire. The issue isn’t the fire itself, it’s what happens after. 

After 25 years of running Ellen's Bed and Breakfast in Longmont, Colo., Ellen Ranson got tired of cooking breakfast.

"So we decided to change the name to Ellen's Bed, Bath & Begone," she says.

That left her more time for sleeping in or reading the paper. But that prospect wasn't too exciting, because the local paper had been thinning out for a while, though Ranson says it used to be relevant.

"And now there's news about Frederick or Erie or Fort Collins or something," she says. All are cities she lives near, but not Longmont.

Morgan Gorris / University of California, Irvine

Researchers say the fungus behind a disease called Valley fever may spread in the Mountain West as rain and temperature patterns change.

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Many parts of the Mountain West are news deserts -- and it’s getting worse. More than 20 counties in our region have no local newspaper. The ones that are left are struggling. And research suggests news deserts contribute to low voter turnout and increasing partisanship

The Mountain West has disproportionately high rates of depressive disorders and suicide. Researchers are trying to find out why. Turns out, the mountains themselves might have something to do with it. 

People are protesting the U.S.’s treatment of immigrants, with vigils planned across the country for the night of Friday, July 12. Collectively, the national event is called “Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps.” 

A national report on the state of children came out this week from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, based primarily on census data.

People are searching the Mountain West for a hidden chest containing something dubbed the “Fenn treasure.” Some are getting injured trying.

A neurodegenerative illness called chronic wasting disease is spreading among deer and elk in our region. Now, researchers at Colorado State University say they’ve found a new way to study the disease -- and another indication that it might eventually become capable of sickening people.

Top politicians are in Vail, Colorado, this week for the annual meeting of the Western Governors Association.

Protesters dressed as swamp creatures kayaked down a river while others marched along a bike path, past private tennis courts and swanky swimming pools outside the hotel where governors met with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

“My shirt says keep your oily hands off of Colorado's public lands,” says Chelsea Stencel, who was among the protesters. “David Bernhardt, the ultimate swamp monster.”

The closest that Travis Rupp came to getting fired from Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder, Colo., he says, was the time he tried to make chicha. The recipe for the Peruvian corn-based beer, cobbled together from bits of pre-Incan archaeological evidence, called for chewed corn partially fermented in spit. So, Rupp's first task had been to persuade his colleagues to gather round a bucket and offer up their chompers for the cause.

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