Monthly Archives: May 2008

Blog My Ride

Jonathan ShradarAbout the author: Jonathan Shradar is EPA’s Press Secretary.

Of all the days they can pick for bike to work day, they pick one that it is raining. Of course, for two weeks I have been telling my office that I was riding in and they should join me, so I had to follow through.

Giving an impassioned speech during a staff meeting, I even mentioned the three E’s of cycling; protecting the environment, getting some exercise, and benefiting your personal economy. But when it came time to raise your hand if you were riding in… I was still the only one.

It appeared as if I would be riding “alone” if I made the journey, but my word has to be worth more than an excuse to get out of a wet ride to work, so I saddled up and headed to the office.

I live about four miles from work, if that, so my commute is not long anyway but the bike is much faster than taking the bus and depending on how well I obey traffic signals, a bit faster than driving. And this morning in the rain I made pretty good time.

But I didn’t just save time, I got to enjoy the beautiful city I live in. I rode by the Capitol reminding me that the things we do can impact the whole nation and the world. I rode by museums making me think of our role in history and how we will be remembered. And I rode by the IRS reminding me to pay my taxes. Okay so maybe it wasn’t all that great.

The key is that I took a step. I rode my bike to work for one day. I have no idea how much carbon I saved by not driving for ten minutes but one ride will lead to others. That is how change is started anyway, by one act.

What step are you willing to take to do your part? Maybe it is the first ride into work, or is it changing light bulbs. Whatever it is if we are going to truly protect the environment we need individuals to be responsible and change the way we live, one pedal at a time perhaps.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Wind in the Winnebago

About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA, and serves as Chief of the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch in Kansas City.

photo of Jeffery RobichaudOne of my first recollections of Kansas City was sitting at a stoplight while fierce gusts of wind attacked my car and shook traffic signal poles so viciously that I thought they would snap like popsicle sticks. Actually, it wasn’t just the wind but also the ragweed that was assaulting my car and senses. I am violently allergic to ragweed and the stuff grows…well like weeds out here.

My allergies notwithstanding, we have pretty good air quality throughout the Midwest although we do face challenges with ozone and particulate matter in urban areas like Kansas City and St. Louis. Throughout the country, states, tribes, and local governments maintain monitors that sample for pollutants. Since these monitors play an important role in revealing air quality, they must be operated and maintained properly. We assist by auditing stations to ensure that equipment is operating properly. This work requires a platform that can house delicate instruments yet is rugged enough drive to remote locations. After several possibilities we settled on a Winnebago, but there is nothing recreational about this vehicle.

We designed it to operate as a mobile air monitoring laboratory. We’ve used this platform successfully for a number of years and it serves as a great conversation piece when we talk with children about air quality. On-site audits require several hours to complete and we use a gasoline generator to power the instruments. Sometime last year the guys got the idea of supplementing the lab with the abundant source of clean energy that was howling in their ears… wind.

photo of staff mounting the windmill up on the side of the vehicle

Several weeks ago we installed a turbine to harness the clean energy provided by the wind. The turbine generates electricity to recharge batteries stored inside the lab that when fully charged can run the entire lab for up to eight hours without a single wisp of generator exhaust. Thanks to this innovation we will conserve gasoline on each trip (as long as the wind cooperates). As my old high school football coach Sherman SmithExit EPA Disclaimer used to say… if it’s to be it’s up to me. We know that it is up to all of us to find ways to help reduce our carbon footprint both at home and where we work, even if work is sometimes on a dusty road in western Nebraska. Now if we could just find something to use all that ragweed for…

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Keep the coquí alive!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s note:  like all our bloggers, and as stated on the “about” page, Lina is expressing her own opinion, not that of EPA in general.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.

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When my friend Jeff M. came back from Hawaii, he mentioned the Hawaiian-Puerto Rican controversy over the tiny Puerto Rican frog, the coquí-the Eleutherodactylus coquí.

The controversy or “national conflict” depending if you ask a Puerto Rican, made front page headlines several years ago when Puerto Rico got wind of Hawaii’s efforts to eradicate these innocent Puerto Rican frogs. How did they travel thousands of miles across the oceans? Apparently some innocent coquís got on a plant shipment from the tropical paradise in the Caribbean to a similar paradise thousands of miles away in the Pacific. Needless to say, in that tropical setting without any indigenous predators, these Puerto Rican coquis have multiplied abundantly!

photo of a coqui frogThese small frogs are known for their melodious nocturnal sounds in Puerto Rico. They have been the inspiration for numerous songs, stories, and poetry. These small amphibians have become an unofficial symbol of Puerto Rico. In fact, I just read a newspaper article in Puerto Rico, that the Sierra Club-PR and the University of Puerto Rico hosted an Earth Day event to promote the defense of the coquí.

Yet, the coquís-named after their musical chirping-cokée, cokée–have not received a warm aloha from our fellow U.S. citizens in Hawaii.

In fact, what is music to the ears of many Puerto Ricans became more than a amphibian cacophony over in the Pacific. In Hawaii, the coquí chants have been compared to the noise pollution caused by lawn mowers! That’s hard for me to conceptualize, given the fond memories of listening to the coquís at nighttime. I remember many a rainy night falling asleep to the symphony of these harmless creatures. They are so small and defenseless! But for the residents of the state of Hawaii, the Puerto Rican coquís are doomed for complete eradication and some of the methods are not benign at all

It’s true that the Puerto Rican coquí has become an invasive species in Hawaii, yet I still don’t see how coquís challenge Hawaiian wildlife. I still cannot understand why their chants are not music to the ears of the inhabitants of this Island State. Sad to say, it all boils down to one man’s friend is another man’s foe.

Nonetheless-please save the Puerto Rican coquí.

(UPDATE 7/15/2008 – see also Post-Hawaii Musings)

¡Qué viva el coquí!

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Cuando mi amigo Jeff M. regresó de Hawaí, mencionó la controversia entre Hawaí-Puerto Rico sobre la pequeña ranita puertorriqueña, el coquí-Eleutherodactylus coquí.

Esta controversia o “conflicto nacional” si le pregunta a un puertorriqueño, fue motivo de titulares de primera plana hace varios años atrás cuando Puerto Rico se enteró de los esfuerzos hawaianos por erradicar estos pequeños anfibios. ¿Cómo viajaron miles de millas por los océanos? Aparentemente unos inocentes coquíes estaban en un cargamento de plantas que viajaron del paraíso tropical en el Caribe a otro paraíso semejante miles de millas de distancia en el Pacífico. ¡Demás está decir que en ese entorno tropical sin enemigo autóctono en Hawaí, estos coquíes se multiplicaron abundantemente!

photo of a coqui frogEstos pequeños anfibios se caracterizan por los sonidos nocturnos en Puerto Rico. Han servido de inspiración a numerosas canciones, cuentos, y poesías . Estos pequeños anfibios se han convertido en un símbolo extraoficial de Puerto Rico. De hecho, acabo de leer un artículo de periódico anunciando que el Sierra Club-PR y la Universidad de Puerto Rico auspiciaron un evento del Día del Planeta Tierra para promover la defensa del coquí.

Sin embargo, los coquíes-conocidos por su melodioso cantar-coquí, coquí-no han recibido un caluroso aloha de sus conciudadanos estadounidenses en Hawaí.

De hecho, lo que es música para los oídos de muchos puertorriqueños se convirtió en una cacofonía anfibia allá en el Pacífico. ¡En Hawaí, el cantar del coquí ha sido comparado a la contaminación de ruido ocasionado por las cortadoras de césped! Me es difícil conceptualizarlo dado los gratos recuerdos de escuchar a los coquíes al anochecer. Recuerdo muchas noches lluviosas quedarme dormida con la sinfonía de estas criaturas inofensivas. ¡Son pequeñas e indefensas! Pero para los residentes del estado de Hawaí, los coquíes puertorriqueños están condenados a erradicación completa y algunos de los métodos no son nada de benignos.

Es cierto que el coquí puertorriqueño se ha convertido en una especie invasora en Hawaí, pero todavía no veo cómo los coquíes amenazan la vida silvestre hawaiana. Tampoco entiendo el por qué su cantar no es música para los oídos de los habitantes de este estado isleño. Lamento decir, que la controversia se limita al hecho de que la criatura que es amiga para unos resulta enemiga de otros.

Independientemente de la clasificación-ayuden a salvar al coquí puertorriqueño.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Why Data About Data Matters

photo of field gear scattered around

About the author: Molly O’Neill, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information and Chief Information Officer.

In my first job after college, I was an environmental biologist/analyst. I spent some of that time taking surface water, sediment, groundwater, soil, and biological samples in the field. Of course, I followed the EPA standard sampling procedures and believe me they are quite extensive – 14-hour days were common and much of that time was to ensure that the quality of the sample was not compromised. There is a lot of documentation that goes along with each sample taken. After those long days in the field, I used to think, does all this documentation really make a difference?

Last week I participated in a listening session with a stakeholder group as part of the National Dialogue for Access to Environmental Information. One of the important themes that kept coming up during the discussion was the necessity to have access to quality data. This means that the data sample and results are not compromised and that the information about the data sample is not lost or forgotten along the way. For example, a community may take water samples at a local beach for a specific place and time, and then post the results to a website. These results are then consumed by other interested parties and made available to the public in a variety of ways. The data about the data, or “metadata”, doesn’t always convey with the data set and therefore, secondary users of this data may draw the wrong conclusions. In this case, without the time/place data with the sample an assumption that a local beach is currently contaminated may not be accurate.

Along that same theme, there was concern that while new mapping tools allow almost anyone to grab data sets (including some of EPA’s) and plot them on a map, combining data sets doesn’t always make sense. Data Set A + Data Set B doesn’t necessarily = Conclusion C. These are good cautions and the takeaway for me was that while providing access is good, we need to ensure that access to the metadata is equally as important. We also need invest in describing the data set and why it is collected.

Getting back to my first job and the question about whether the documentation with a sample is important, you bet the answer is yes! If you have comments on how we might enhance access to environmental information, please checkout our National Dialogue web site.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Take Me Out to the Ballgame

About the author: Kelly Leovic has been with EPA since 1987, doing indoor air research and then exposure research before beginning her dream job of educational outreach in 2003.

I loaded the lung capacity kit, Watts meter, and brochures into my car and couldn’t believe that I was getting paid to do this! Today was my 3rd year staffing our EPA Booth at the Durham Bulls Education DayExit EPA Disclaimer – same team as Bull Durham movie, just a new ballpark.

At 9:30 a.m., over 3,000 students, 1st grade through high school, and their chaperones and teachers descended upon the Ballpark. Instantly, our table was surrounded by students anxious to measure how many cups of air they had in their lungs or to compare the wattage of a CFL with a traditional bulb.

Lung capacity is always the most popular activity at our booth, so the next 3 hours went something like this:

A class of 3rd graders surrounds our table curious about the big bucket of water with a tube.

Kelly: Today we are going to do an experiment to measure how many cups of air you have in your lungs.

Kid #1: Is it free?

Kelly: Sure is! Now take a clean straw, and put it into the end of the tube attached to the bucket. Take a deep breath and blow all the air out of your lungs into the tube. Then we’ll measure how many cups of water you emptied. Only take one breath. (We can’t use the term “water displacement” with 3rd graders!)

Kid #1 begins to blow, and we all cheer words of lung-emptying encouragement. I play judge, making sure no one sneaks in an extra breath.

Kelly: Nice job. Now, let’s measure how many cups of air you had. Wow…8 cups! (Most kids measure between 4 and 16 cups of air.)

Finally, we then talk about why some kids might have more capacity than others and how exercise can improve lung capacity.

photo of Kelly LeovicI repeat this, smiling and saying “nice job,” approximately 172 times that day. In the spirit of exercise and health, my favorite part is talking to the students about their sports. I especially enjoy when they play basketball or tennis, run track, or swim because those are sports that my kids do. I also love their “competitive” spirit in trying to outdo their classmates.

Education Day was a great way to celebrate National Air Quality Awareness Week and Asthma Awareness Month. Oh, and did I mention that, to top it off, the Durham Bulls won, 2-0?!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Bike to Work Day, 2008

About the author: Aaron Ferster is the science writer-editor for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He rides to work on the Capital Crescent Trail.

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photo of Aaron Ferster and his bikeWhen I tell people one of the best parts of my job is the commute, they immediately think I must dislike my work. Actually, I have a great job. It’s just that I love my commute. I’m one of a handful of EPA employees hooked on commuting by bike.

The best part of bicycle commuting is that it’s fun; it is also good for the environment and my health. Bicycling reduces pollution and my carbon footprint. I get twice-daily workouts pedaling right past the gas pump and their ever-increasing prices. I have a bike locker at the Metro for those days when the weather or my schedule conspire to prevent me from tackling the trip all the way from Rockville, MD, where I live, to EPA in downtown Washington, DC. Leaving my car at home saves me some $95.00 a month in Metro parking alone.

For days when I can ride all the way to work, I’m treated to fresh air, bird songs instead of honking, and a great view overlooking the Potomac River from the Capital Crescent Trail. I share the skinny strip of pavement with lots of fellow bike commuters, plenty of early-morning dog walkers, and the occasional box turtle or deer.

Friday, May 16th is my favorite day of the year: Bike to Work Day. Bike to Work Day is held in cities across the country every May (National Bike Month) as a way of enticing people to give bike commuting a try and to promote bicycling as a green, healthy, and fun alternative to driving.

Here in Washington, DC the event combines my two favorite things: bicycles and free coffee. Morning convoys gather from across the metropolitan area to join together in ever-increasing numbers as they ride toward Freedom Plaza downtown (conveniently located just across from EPA headquarters). Freedom Plaza is the annual site of Bike to Work Day festivities, including speeches, music, free tee-shirts, raffles, and refreshments featuring bagels, energy bars, bananas, and—oh goodie!—hot, fresh coffee.

On Friday, May 16th, consider giving Bike to Work Day a try (May 15 in some cities like San Francisco). It could very well turn out to be your favorite work day of the year.

P.S. Tell us why you are or aren’t biking to work.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Question of the Week: Why are you or aren’t you biking to work?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

To bike or not to bike – that is the question… It’s National Bike Week! Biking is healthy, it prevents air pollution, and it can even save you money (filled your tank recently?). So why aren’t you biking to work? Need more bike paths? Different policies from your employer? Government sponsorship or policies? Or are you just a couch potato?

Why are you or aren’t you biking to work?

If you ARE biking, tell us about your route and experiences!


Follow-up:
Summary of the comments submitted for this blog entry.
Related:
How far do you live from where you work or play? Why?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Knowing Your Rights

About the author: Cory Wagner joined EPA’s Office of Environmental Information in 2005. He is currently the project manager for the development of the Toxics Release Inventory-Made Easy (TRI-ME) and TRI-MEweb reporting assistance software.

Cory WagnerIndividual rights have certainly been in the news lately. From the Olympic Torch being doused in France in protest of suspected human rights abuses in China, to the Supreme Court reviewing the DC gun ban in light of the Second Amendment, to the continuing struggle to balance an individual’s right to privacy against the safety of the general public in a post-911 world, one can hardly read a newspaper these days without seeing an article about rights. This makes sense as we are a nation built on rights. The rights of the individual are crucial to our way of life and the backbone of democracy.

In 1986, Congress added a new individual right with the passage of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). This act gave local communities access to environmental information about chemical hazards located nearby. You may have wondered “just what is coming out of that smoke stack on that building near my home?”

Well, I currently work in the program that implements part of EPCRA, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). Each year, we collect data on releases and transfers of chemicals from industry and make it available to the public. The answer to the question posed above is readily available to you through the use of on-line TRI data tools such as TRI Explorer, Envirofacts, and the electronic Facility Data Report (eFDR). We are continually making efforts to make the TRI information available to you in easy-to-understand formats and as close to the time that we collect it as possible. The TRI program will continue to work hard to ensure that you are always able to exercise your right to know.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Go Green-Scaping!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.

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Photo of pink orchids cluster.When I lived in Puerto Rico, there were flowers plants and trees everywhere. Beautiful orchids, bouganvilleas, flamboyanes (flaming trees), palm trees—a true painter’s palette. My close relatives were gifted with green thumbs. It seemed they could produce a full plant from a little twig.

Unfortunately, I was not as lucky. I confess that living in a tropical setting, it was an adjustment to relocate to a region where we have four seasons and with seasonal flowers. Last year when we were remodeling the house, I let my husband redesign the decks, but I asked that he leave the landscaping to me.

Working at EPA, I was convinced that I had to practice what I preach. The whole concept of greenscaping is a practice we highly recommend. This type of gardening not only contributes to the natural beauty, but it also protects the environment.

Photo of the backyard with trees and the house' deck.Before buying plants and designing the landscape, I studied which are
the native plants to the area of Maryland. (PDF) (24 pages, 279KB).

By selecting native plants, you minimize the use of water as well as the use of fertilizers and pesticides. I also selected several varieties of evergreens to ensure some type of foliage year round. I also studied which were the ideal plants for the type of soil I have to reduce maintenance and labor—remember I mentioned that I don’t have a green thumb.

In sum, gardening can be a very positive experience for environmental protection. One of the projects for this summer will be composting. I’ll let you know how that goes.

¡Viva la jardinería ecológica!

Photo of pink orchids cluster.Cuando vivía en Puerto Rico, habían flores y árboles por doquier. Hermosas orquídeas, trinitarias, flamoyanes*, palmas—una verdadera paleta de pintor. Mis familiares cercanos tenían mucha suerte sembrando las plantas. Parecía que podían producir una planta de un simple gancho.

Lamentablemente, yo no he tenido la misma suerte. Confieso que viniendo de un ambiente tropical, fue un ajuste vivir en una región donde tenemos cuatro temporadas con plantas típicas de cada estación. El año pasado cuando estábamos haciendo unas remodelaciones en la casa, dejé que mi esposo diseñara los balcones, pero le pedí que me dejara el diseño del jardín a mí.

Trabajando en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental, estaba convencida que tenía que practicar lo que predico. Todo el concepto de jardinería ecológica (PDF) (16 pages, 2.7 MB) o como se dice en inglés “greenscaping” es algo que recomendamos. Este tipo de jardinería no tan sólo contribuye a la belleza natural del lugar sino también ayuda a proteger el medio ambiente.

Photo of the backyard with trees and the house' deck.Antes de hacer el diseño, estudié cuáles eran las plantas nativas del área de Maryland. (PDF) (24 pages, 279KB)

Al seleccionar las plantas nativas se reduce la necesidad de utilizar agua en exceso así como la necesidad de utilizar fertilizantes y pesticidas. También estudié cuáles eran las plantas ideales para el tipo de terreno y las que requerirían menor mantenimiento—recuerden que comenté que no tengo la misma habilidad con las plantas como mis familiares.

En fin, la jardinería puede ser una actividad positiva para la protección ambiental. Uno de mis proyectos para este verano será el compostaje, el abono orgánico. Ya les contaré.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hangin' with Pandy Pollution

About the author: When not wearing a big, fuzzy giant panda costume, Aaron Ferster is the science writer-editor for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. This is his first entry for Greenversations.

I knew I was in for an interesting day when my boss looked me over and asked: “How tall are you?” “Five-foot-eleven,” I replied, wondering how height might play into my next performance evaluation.

“Perfect! There’s a big box waiting for you in shipping. It’s your costume for the Pollution Prevention Week table we’re setting up outside the Metro. Dress light. I’m told it’s hot in that panda suit.” Thus began my life as Pandy Pollution, EPA’s spokes-panda. Thanks boss!

Pandy Pollution and Dr. George Gray of ORD

Pandy’s goal for Earth Day was to lure people over to EPA’s display table where they could help themselves to the brochures, pamphlets, coloring books, and other environmental education materials on “going green.”

The boss was right about one thing: it was hot in there. Even dressed in gym shorts and a tee-shirt, I started roasting as soon as I slipped into the panda suit. But if you want to attract attention, going out dressed as overstuffed panda character is just the ticket. Just about everyone coming off the metro came in for a closer inspection, and plenty of folks picked up educational materials. Some even stayed to chat with the coterie of EPA experts hanging around the table. Mission accomplished.

Playing panda is a great way to help spread the word about safeguarding the environment and protecting human health. Now, it seems, real giant pandas and other wild critters play an even bigger role. There is growing scientific evidence that there is a connection between the decline in the diversity of wildlife and the emergence and spread of certain diseases.

EPA scientists are working with colleagues around the globe to better understand the link between biological diversity—the variety of species of plants, animals, and other living things that make up natural ecosystems—and emerging infectious diseases such as Lyme disease and malaria. What the scientists learn will help EPA and other agencies share important information about protecting human health. Someday soon, there might even be a stack of brochures about the subject available at the EPA Earth Day display just outside the metro entrance. If you’re interested in stopping by, just look for the 5-foot-11-inch-tall giant panda—and be sure to tell Pandy I say hello.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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