A Northern California city illustrates environmental health hazards commonly faced by poor and minority communities. In Richmond, Calif., people live within a ring of five major oil refineries, three chemical companies, eight Superfund sites, dozens of other toxic waste sites, highways, two rail yards, ports and marine terminals where tankers dock. Experts  say the environmental hazards, including exposure to chemicals such as benzene and mercury, likely are taking a health toll. Residents of Richmond, particularly African Americans, are at significantly higher risk of dying from heart disease and strokes and are more likely to go to hospitals for asthma than other county residents. Environmental Health News

Failure to curb toxic substances in the workplace leaves many employees exposed. Beryllium, a metal used in everything from missiles to golf clubs, threatens as many as 134,000 workers in the United States, according to government estimates. Silica, a mineral pulverized and inhaled by construction workers, foundry workers and miners, threatens more than 2 million. Obsolete exposure limits, dating to the early 1970s, are on the books for both substances. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration “hasn’t made a serious run at regulating chemicals in the workplace in a couple of decades,” said the head of a left-leaning think tank. The Center for Public Integrity

Anti-smoking groups and Big Tobacco face showdown in California. The state’s voters will decide Tuesday on a ballot initiative backed by public health groups to impose  a new $1-a-pack cigarette tax to finance cancer research. The measure, known as Proposition 29, would raise taxes on cigarettes for the first time in 14 years in California. The battle has provoked a $47 million storm of advertisements, overwhelmingly financed by the tobacco industry, which is outspending proponents by nearly four to one. At 87 cents, the state’s current cigarette tax is about half the national average. Previous efforts to raise the tax have repeatedly failed, thwarted by resistance from the tobacco industry. The New York Times

Britain faces a cost of $46 billion to rid synthetic hormones used in birth control pills from its water. European Union officials have proposed sharp reductions in these widespread chemicals, which have been linked to collapses in fish populations. But the plan, which would boost household water bills, is controversial. Water and drug companies dispute the science and argue the costs are prohibitive. Many environmental researchers counter that the damage done to fish populations by ethinyl estradiol, or EE2 — the main active ingredient of contraceptive pills — demonstrates a serious potential threat to humans. The European parliament is due to decide the issue in November. The Guardian

France poised to ban a pesticide thought to endanger bees. The ban would apply to the Cruiser OSR pesticide for rapeseed crops, which are used for making vegetable oil and biodiesel fuel. The decision was triggered by recent scientific findings suggesting that thiamethoxam, an ingredient in Cruiser, made bees more likely to lose their way and die. A sharp decline in bee populations across the world in recent years, part of a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, has prompted growing international concerns about pesticide use, although research has yet to show clearly the causes of the problem. The Cruiser OSR pesticide is made by the Swiss agro-chemical group Syngenta. Reuters

Recalls: Fisker Karma electric cars (expanded recall), Keoki’s Brand Kalua Pork, BaLe pork rolls, Taylor Farms bagged salad (revoked recall for  potential E. coli contamination), Crown Prince oysters

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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