Science, Health & Tech

We cover these essential linchpins of the Pittsburgh regional economy, and how they impact residents' personal health and employment. 

Graphic by Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

For months, PNC Bank customers have complained online that they’re having trouble using third party payment apps like Venmo.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program has passed a half-billion dollars in sales since it began dispensing the drug nearly two years ago.

Carnegie Mellon University

College students have access to an abundance of data to track their progress in classes, from test scores to grades on projects and assignments. Professors, however, often have to rely on subjective evaluations once a year to get a sense of how they are doing. A system developed by a Carnegie Mellon University team aims to give educators more data to work with so they can improve their teaching techniques.

Simon Klingert / AP

A major veterans advocacy organization says the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should be doing more to help vets who were exposed to toxic chemicals in combat zones, particularly pollution from burn pits.

During the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military contractors routinely burned garbage that included heavy metals, chemicals, human waste and plastic. As early as 2008, soldiers reported illnesses they said was due to being exposed to fumes from the burn pits.


Information is power, and Allegheny County has a new tool to track public health trends as they're happening.

Brett Sholtis / WITF

Pennsylvania’s opioid command center says there’s been “an abnormally high number of drug-related overdoses over the past few days” in Dauphin County.

Two dozen people were treated for overdoses in emergency rooms since Nov. 2, according to the command center, which the governor established in 2018 upon declaring the opioid crisis a disaster emergency.

Susquehanna Township EMS responded to three overdoses on Sunday alone, said director Matt Baily.

Allyson Ruggieri / 90.5 WESA

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board have found Uber's self-driving technology was not built to detect jaywalkers. The NTSB began investigating after a woman walking across the street with her bike was struck and killed in Tempe, Ariz. in March 2018.

University of Pittsburgh

Coaches are tasked with helping their athletes improve, but when those athletes are underwater, in the case of competitive swimmers, it can be hard to actually see if what they're doing is right. A University of Pittsburgh invention, called Impulse, helps coaches visualize a swimmer's form under water. 

Jim Mone / AP

UnitedHealthCare Insurance is expected to pay an undetermined amount of money to policy holders after it miscalculated claims for mental health and addiction-related services, according to the state Insurance Department.


Meals, travel, lodging, education, consulting and speakers' fees: manufacturers of opioid medications often treat physicians to expensive gifts, a practice that's earned increased scrutiny in light of the opioid epidemic. 

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace is open for people to sign up for coverage for 2020. 

Popular Backyard Fires Aren't Fun For Everyone, Wood Smoke Is Bad For Your Health

Nov 4, 2019
Kara Holsopple / Allegheny Front

Most of us don’t need fires to cook our food or keep us warm. But they’re a tradition, and a way to unwind with friends and family, and maybe make s’mores around the flames. But there’s a darker side to popular backyard fire pits: wood smoke is bad for your health.

Just ask Carol Wivell. She moved to her home in McKeesport, south of Pittsburgh, about seven years ago.

“I would just like to emphasize the fact that I do love to work in my yard, when I feel well enough to do it,” Wivell said. “Wood smoke makes that difficult.”

Damian Dovarganes / AP


On today's program: What to expect one year from the 2020 elections; how tariffs are affecting some of PA’s steel workers; what PA can do to get ahead of a potential retirement crisis in manufacturing; and how Pittsburgh safety officials are preparing for the threat of bioterrorism.

Telemedicine Bill Passes PA Senate, Faces Hurdle In House

Nov 1, 2019
Carolyn Kaster / AP

A bill requiring health insurance companies to cover remote medical services—often called telemedicine—passed the state Senate Wednesday and is headed for the state House Health Committee, where it may face a roadblock.

RedFlash Group

For first responders, communication is key to saving lives, but technology for these professionals has lagged behind traditional consumer products. A traveling codeathon coming to Carnegie Mellon University this weekend aims to encourage the development of apps for firefighters, EMTs and other public safety personnel.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

A majority of medicare patients' injuries aren't being properly assessed in emergency rooms, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh.

Charles Krupa / AP

Pennsylvania is in line to receive more than $53 million as part of a nationwide settlement with a British company that once distributed a drug used to treat opioid addiction.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Thursday that the money is to settle allegations that the company defrauded Medicaid and other state health care programs.

The U.S. Department of Justice had accused an ex-Reckitt Benckiser subsidiary of marketing Suboxone Film by saying the drug was safer than other opioid addiction treatments.

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

More and more people are working from home; one in 20 Americans worked remotely in 2018. Developing the skills, however, to find a remote career can be tricky, especially when you have children. This problem is what local company Moms Can & Co. aims to solve. 

Katie Meyer / 90.5 WESA

A group of Pennsylvania state legislators gathered in the Capitol on Monday to rally support for their effort to dramatically restrict access to abortion.

Scott Kelly / NASA via AP

A device created in Pittsburgh will be sent to the International Space Station next month. SoundSee, developed by technology company Bosch, uses artificial intelligence to detect mechanical problems based on sound. The project is in collaboration with Pittsburgh-based space robotics company, Astrobotic.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

Premiums for health insurers' individual policies in Pennsylvania for 2020 will reflect an aggregate statewide increase of 4 percent, with an increase of 10 percent in the small group market.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania opened its medical marijuana registry to patients two years ago, and it was only a matter of time before a case like Derek Gsell’s would arise.

Google Maps

Highmark-affiliated Penn State Health signed a letter of intent to buy Geisinger’s Holy Spirit Health System, five years after Geisinger acquired the hospital chain. The health systems aim to complete the deal by June 30, 2020, pending regulatory approval.


Walmart rolled out a new grocery delivery service in Pittsburgh Tuesday that will bring goods into customers’ homes, even if they aren't there. The program is also being piloted in Kansas City, Mo. and Vero Beach, Fla.

Wilfredo Lee / AP

Airplanes are expensive to build, and relatively few are made each month. A Boeing press release from January touts the company has a seven-year order backlog for the Boeing 737, and is increasing production of the model to 52 airplanes each month.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Suicidal thoughts are a common occurrence among transgender teens, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh. About 85 percent of the 1,134 transgender adolescents surveyed said they’d experienced serious suicidal thoughts.

Whitethorn Digital

In an industry flooded with shooter games and adventure titles, one Erie company is branding itself as an oasis for stressed out gamers. Video game publisher Whitethorn Digital aims to give a platform to independent, chilled-out games.

Washington County Family Members Tell State To ‘Fix’ Their Cancer Study

Oct 8, 2019
Reid R. Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The families of several people diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer in one Washington County School District told state health officials to update their data at a public hearing Monday night. 

Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA

Kim Stanley shook out a white pill from a prescription bottle and poured herself a glass of water, at the kitchen sink of her North Huntingdon Township home. The antibiotic was to treat an infected cut on her leg.

Nam Y. Huh / AP

The Pennsylvania Health Department says one person in the state has died from lung injuries associated with vaping and it's investigating dozens of other suspected or confirmed cases.

The state's health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, announced the death Friday and said Pennsylvania has also reported nine confirmed cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Health Department reported the death on Thursday to the federal agency.

State officials aren't disclosing publicly any other details about the death, such as where or when it occurred.