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Question of the Week: Where do you think more scientific attention should be focused?

2009 May 18

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.

Many people are concerned with scientific issues around the world.  Health issues, climate change, water quality, sustainability, and many more. Tell us what issues you think scientists should focus on more.

Where do you think more scientific attention should be focused?

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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71 Responses leave one →
  1. Catherine permalink
    May 18, 2009

    We need to think of ways to practice recycling. As it appears now, it has not sunken in. Giving people two separate containers will not necessarily change their actions…but changing minds will change behavior. These matters should be in science books. People need to begin with one week of commitment to recycling. Then we should work on two, etc., until it is a lifestyle in America

  2. J.D. Sanchez permalink
    May 18, 2009

    track deformities in animals – isn’t that a good indicator of how pollution has effected not only the air and the water, but now the ability to reproduce?

  3. Xun XU permalink
    May 18, 2009

    I am wondering about how we can deal with the pollutants we’re producing everyday.It exists a real problem in facilitating the 3R policy effectively as people rarely regard the wastes a part of the ecology and seldom handle them as nature does.

  4. Kevin Pierce permalink
    May 18, 2009

    We know a tremendous amount about what we could/should be doing. We should pay more attention to compelling action. What are the key factors in encouraging sustainable behavior? How can we get individuals and organizations to make the big changes that need to be made? How can decision-makers be encouraged to make better decisions?

  5. Sandy Banks-Stuart permalink
    May 18, 2009

    I would like to see more research into ways to clean up our oceans. This would involve research into, not only how to neutralize the toxicity of nuclear waste that has been dumped into our oceans- to render it harmless to the environment of both humanity and other species, but also, there would have to be research into the chemicals, both organic and inorganic, that has been dumped into our oceans, to either permanantly contain them (such as the DDT off the coast of Santa Monica, Ca), or to neutralize the toxicity to also render them harmless to the environment of both humanity and other species.
    The reason I believe we must start with the oceans, rather than the atmosphere, is that the athmosphere is dependant upon the evaporation over the oceans. And even though I have not been able to find or keep up withe the latest research into the specifications of how Meterology determines the type of chemicals that may bond with water molecules when they evaporate, I have always believed , especially since the discovery of acid rain, that we need to develope better tech to be able to test and discover every aspect of the eco process. But Thank-you I would start with the oceans.

  6. Chris S permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Scientific investigation should not be “focused onto any single given area”, but rather should be spread across a wide spectrum and then the results should be available to all for further testing. Basic research into all aspects of the “natural world” is what is needed.

    The reason I make this statement is because the object of scientific inquiry is to ask questions and find answers. We do not “know” where the solutions to current problems will be found. Many critical discoveries were made while looking for something else; and the discoverer(s) had the prescence of mind to recognize that there was something of value to be investigated further.

    It is technology that can be directed into hopefully productive areas of investigation, though it is often interdisciplinary investigations that produce the greatest dividends.

  7. Jackenson Durand permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Day by day; I keep my mind focus on an analytic study of this earth where I born, live and think about children future or generation future. In this optic, I think that I Scientific attention should be focused on Climate Environment.

  8. Jackenson Durand permalink
    May 18, 2009

    They should be focused on climate change because a better air atmospheric should bring a valuable contribution to health issue, water quality and many more…

  9. Garry Callaway permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Water quality and food safety. We need green, nontoxic alternatives to safeguard our most precious resources. Let’s kill the bacteria at the source using nontoxic products.

  10. The Green Nose permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Water Quaility

  11. Tomzuka permalink
    May 18, 2009

    I agree there isnt any excuse not recycling its a simple a proven effective way of decreasing pollution,product cost and relieing less on gas.I think businesses need to adopt the idea of recycling everything from A-Z.If we could get half of a city to do something like that.The rewards would be immediate.And I think whonce in the routine of such a thing peple woul’nt mind.

  12. Tomzuka permalink
    May 18, 2009

    This is a far-fetched idea,but what if roads were undergrund,and had some sort of ventilation that cleaned the carbon emission as it happened.Would’nt that not only clear the surface of eye soar roads and clean the air.Reply please let me no what you think.

  13. Chad C Payne Sr permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Focus should be placed on the long term effects of genetically engineered foods. There are no studies showing the long term ecological effects of the mutations we are consuming daily.
    As we populate the planet our food sources diminish and mankind is pushed to new frontiers. Proceed with caution!

  14. Tomzuka permalink
    May 18, 2009

    It needs to be fitted into there culture,like music.Reach them buy useing money.Make it an economic pursuit and perhaps eventually it’ll become routine and become like a everday chore for people.

  15. Sara Frazier permalink
    May 18, 2009

    “Better living through science.” That’s what we were all indoctrinated on, right? Well, somewhere along the way it seems science was high-jacked by the “free market” capitalists. There needs to be some serious public funding for science to make any positive difference in our lives–and as far as applications–how about a little reverence for life and for the betterment of all species.

  16. Daniel Spalding permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Ozone kills bacteria within a few seconds by a process known as cell lysing. Because of this, microorganisms cannot develop ozone resistant strains; thus eliminating the need to change biocides periodically. (Franken 2005) See KSU White Paper

    I recommend that the EPA quit misinforming and scaring people about ozone. It is not the problem…it is the solution.

  17. Tree Hugger Grrl permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Overpopulation!

  18. Al Lewandowski permalink
    May 18, 2009

    While pure science is very rewarding in the long run. We need more research monies for sustainable issues in dealing with the relationship of reducing energy usage = reducing CO2.

  19. Janna permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Interesting that many of the above replies are very much in line with my reaction to this weeks question. I think we need more emphasis on social science research. Especially sociology and social-psychology as it relates to behavior change. And also research on institutional change.

    My area is water and I am really frustrated water resource mgmt is so dominated by hydrology, geochemistry, and engineering. These are VERY important, but they are not enough. Water pollution and water depletion are essentially social problems. And with non-point source pollution dramatically overtaking point source as the major cause of water impairments, we really need to invest more research $$ in understanding how behavior change really occurs, especially in farming communities, but also in urban centers.

    We already know that changing behaviors takes much more than increasing awareness and changing attitudes. And we are just now figuring out it also takes more than peer-pressure and social norming (i.e. social marketing). As the folks in the emerging fields of public engagement and civic organizing tell us, behavior change – on the scale needed to reverse very disturbing trends in our watersheds – requires a focus on the social context in which behaviors occur, and not just on the behaviors themselves.

    So, for example, we could explore the impact of supportive social structures within communities (i.e., collaborative neighbor networks, civic capacity development, social capital, etc.) on long-term behavior change. And we could explore the impact of more inclusive, open governing institutions – or put differently, the impact of a changed, more meaningful, more co-creating role for citizens within water governance. If we give citizens back their voice and their agency in water governance, will this result in behavior change?

    Identity and efficacy are two very powerful drivers of behavior. So we need to learn more about what kind of social contexts promote the development of these things, and whether this in turn leads to cleaner, more plentiful waters.

    Diatribe over. Thanks for reading. :)

  20. Edward Berdan permalink
    May 18, 2009

    I believe that we should concentrate more on the renewable resources and medicines area.

    We right now are in a desparate need of a quick, reliable and renewbale energy resource that could sever our need of oil because not only is gasoline contributing to pollution, but its continuing global warming and creating even more political matters. If we had our own energy resource on our own turf, then we wouldn’t need to worry about buying from other peoples resources.

    We need medicine!!!Medicine is key to helping humankind survive world-wide disease breakouts or to help strengthen our current immune system. Today, we are faced with many new types of diseases and some old ones that have mutated and become immune to our current medicines. We need newer, more efficent types of medicines that wouldn’t create a resistant-strain of the same disease that its trying to fight off.

  21. Ben permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Sustainability will be the most crucial question in the scientific community in the next few decades. As finite resources diminish and the wastes from the use of those resources becomes realized, the importance in developing sustainable communities and technologies will increase significantly. Sustainability can reduce waste, toxins, and decay — the major ecological concerns of the century.

  22. Jimmy McCurry permalink
    May 18, 2009

    How about cancer research or other diseases that might be curable. Just as the Serenity Prayer states, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. This would be a good prayer for our leaders to pray also.

  23. Jimmy McCurry permalink
    May 18, 2009

    I believe that DDT has been proven to have saved more lives than it has taken. It is still used in Mexico where your winter tomatoes, and other vegetables come from. WOW maybe we should support AMERICAN farmers that have proven they can produce the world’s safest food supply.

  24. Jimmy McCurry permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Our county set up containers to bring recycled (old used) oil to. It seemed like a very good idea until they failed to keep them emptied. The result was a really bad spill in several areas of the county. Of course our local government “swept it under the table” and left it up to the citizens to clean up. DO NOT PUT YOUR TRUST IN GOVERNMENT. They often will wind up costing you money and you will be left the mess to clean up. Local citizens working together to maintain a healthy environment is much better than waiting on “big brother” ie the government to come along and fix it for you. We all should be stewards of the land and property that God has allowed us to have.

  25. Cyn Romero - GA permalink
    May 18, 2009

    I would hope that we do not limit ourselves to just a few of the most pressing issues we have before us. From reading the replies, it is clear that issues of the environment are interrelated. With respect to scientific focus, I would like to see a coordinated effort of a block of interrelated issues addressed. For example, sustainability will not be clarified if recycling is not addressed.

  26. Laura permalink
    May 18, 2009

    We already have funding and active research into each of these areas. The problem is marketing turning the majority into brainwashed, must-have-this-thing-now, thoughtless consumers. More research simply must go into the education and relinquishing of the people on being sold things they otherwise wouldn’t miss. Only then does a real free market arise, one that is based on an educated consumer making purchases on the best available information. A natural response would be the application of all this beautiful research already out there by common folks looking to make the right choices. Then, doing what everyone else is doing may not be such a bad thing… To be more narrow, let’s pick one: dissemination of the real benefits of organic farming, including unabashedly informing folks of eutrophication of estuaries of already over-fished waters, and so on…

  27. Bill McClenney permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Being a hardcore environmentalist (I clean up hazardous waste sites) I am privy to a large swath of industries and environmental challenges of an almost infinite variety. By hardcore I mean I focus on the things that will have the greatest positive effect on the overall problem, with an eye towards assuring the chosen solution is also compativbe with a host of other considerations, such as the lesser problems, does not create yet another problem, the list goes on and on.

    Applying that to today’s world is actually rather simple. The environmental problem that could very well hit us the soonest, and may be the least irreversible is triple canopy rainforest devastation, which doubled in the Brazilian Amazon last year alone. No one has successfully developed a means to quickly re-establish enormous acreage with rainforest. In 2005, 50,000 square miles would have been needed just to stay even. This could affect climate in yet truly unknown ways, particularly with respect to climate change. And it will happen in about a decade at the present biofuels responsible presently doubled rate. This means real research into the fields of sociology, economics, agriculture and politics. This was solved before by the early native Amazon tribes. it could be as simple as the right use of land, the appropriate regulation of agricultural markets (to reward environmentally friendly cultivation, and penalize unfriendly unsustainable ones. A tall order.

    Perhaps even before rainforest devastation forcing can alter climate we need to address population growth. This is key, and should be addressed alongside the deforestation issue and I think before we waste a lot of treasure on GHG driven climate change. Because the two are inseparably linked. You will accomplish nothing on GHGs unless you also deal with population. Simply do the math on the resources a third worlder demands of his/her world, and re-do the calcs assuming average American Plush demand and then remember that when the recession is rescinded, the world’s largest population will be on the hunt for that plush, resource intensive lifestyle. Keep in mind that 13 of our 16 largest cities squat on estuaries, the only known incubators of life in the universe. And this brings us into the realms of sociology, religion and politics.

    Beyond these daunting goals come energy, materials and zero-waste manufacturing. In terms of energy, a variety of new fission processes have been invented for safer, more friendly use of a now well known source of electricity. Adopting the French mentality of a standard, scaleable design could get us a long way down the future road. But do this while recognizing that every penny not spent on fusion research is essentially a wasted penny. But energy must be solved in both the large and small ways, or things will commensurately less plush for everyone.

    Energy storage technology has seen the slowest rate of growth of almost any modern technology. We need to accelerate promising new storage technologies, such as the pinhole ion pathways that have been found to drastically reduce recharge times, a critical component to the successful storage and use of alternative energy generation methods. So physics and electrical engineering are key here.

    And one which drastically needs help, is the still immature field of climate research. Modeling, or future fantasizing, should not, but does, rivet a great deal of attention. What is far more clear is the maturing field of paleoclimatology. While we get all worked up over climate change which we may cause that is predicted to occur to the maximum IPCC rate of 2C and 2-feet of sea level rise in a century pales into comparison to the far “noisier” background of natural climate change, which can abruptly (from mere years to nominally decades) result in as much as a 16C rise in temperatures and occasion 400 foot swings in sea level on the major ice-age/interglacial shifts. This interglacial, the Holocene, at 11,500 years old, is now at precisely half of a precessional cycle, roughly the same age as the previous 6 interglacials dating back to the Mid Pleistocene Transition. Meaning it could be kaput. The change to the planet’s cool mode happens almost as swiftlyand it wiped out the Vikings from a mostly ice free Greenland within recorded human history. What we do know is that the effects on planet earth of these switches is seemingly far out of proportion to the assumed forcing, whatever you may suggest it may be. So being cognizant of these facts, while keeping a nurturing eye on the ever-aspiring weather and climate prognosticators, something other than what you now think may eventually be the conclusion.

    Materials research is next. Substantial research by our military

  28. Sarit permalink
    May 18, 2009

    I think, more scientific research should focus on application of sustainable principles in community scale. It should include carbon audit, health risks audit, mobility, energy usage and localized waste treatment issues etc.

  29. Meth Lab Homes. Com permalink
    May 18, 2009

    Focus on what chemicals are doing to the health of children and the elderly. As the most vulnerable members of our population, they are the first to develop health problems; health problems that continue to rise, right along with the number of chemicals we encounter everyday both inside and outside of our homes. Isn’t it time we start protecting those who are least able to protect themselves?

    It wasn’t very long ago when few people knew about Autism and Altzheimers. Today, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know someone whose life has been forever changed by these serious brain disorders. In the case of Autism, another child is diagnosed with Autism every 20 minutes, a brain and social disorder that scientist now feel may be caused when a genetic predisposition to the disorder is triggered by something in their environment.

    What are the “environmental triggers” that are destroying the brains of the youngest and the eldest members of our population? We need to know and we need to know as soon as possible, in my opinion!

  30. tim martin permalink
    May 19, 2009

    EPA needs to get its act together and protect our groundwater from under ground tanks . The whole country is sitting on top of petroleum from tank leaks and the EPA has let California become polluted beyond return the state is broke and now the environment and public health is doomed to contaminated water and soil . Do your job make CA, do something about the contamination in domestic wells and quit giving all our money to countries who don’t care about us or the environment.

  31. LE HOUEDEC permalink
    May 19, 2009

    I agree totally with Sara. We must make a sondage with 50 men or women, ask them what they daily eat, and after five years, scientists could say why any are not being kill sothat we stop with modern illness.

  32. Michalene permalink
    May 19, 2009

    Sustainability is the key. If we concentrate on sustainability we are looking at all the other aspects of what we are doing. Every time we look at one issue in a vaccuum we forget about the unintended consequences of how if affects another system. Sustainability looks at partnerships across all interests groups, across all opinions, across all the sciences and includes all the potentially affected persons. Sustainable living means that whatever we do we look at the entire chain of events that will take place based on that decision. I like the idea of sustainability mentioned as a science – but I would contend it is the procedure that brings in the science: hard science, political science, and the science of communication.

  33. Ron permalink
    May 19, 2009

    Sustainability is absolutely the most important area to focus on. Without sustainability, improvements in health, water, air and all other media are unsupportable. Sustainability provides the basic platform that the everything else rides on. Without that, there is no long term viability.

  34. Dr. Spaceman permalink
    May 19, 2009

    I would like to use my soapbox to say what science field we should NOT be so involved in. Space exploration! I understand that NASA along with other organizations alike find many advances in different fields that improve life here on earth but do we really need to travel into space for all of these finds. The amount of money and brain power that goes into the space program, I think, can be redirected and refocused to helping the earth, actually on earth. With the new green movement filtering into every corner of the world, I believe we should use the skills and funding involved with these organizations and utilize it towards the development of advancing technologies. We put a man on the moon and grew a plant in space; Great, I get it. Now let’s fill this earth with super efficient wind turbines, solar panels and hybrid cars!!!

  35. Don Olson permalink
    May 19, 2009

    It was very interesting and refreshing to read the above responses to the question. I think the one term big enough to incorporate most all of the designations is sustainability. To say another way, we sustain ourself by addressing climate change, water quality, health issues, recycling, renewable energy, community education, sequestation, and so on.

  36. Druz permalink
    May 19, 2009

    Science needs to become science again; the unbiased and passionate pursuit of a better understanding of natural law.

    More than not, today’s “science” is a tool for manipulation of our society. For example, the global warming issue has spurned dramatic, often drastic shifts in government policies that will have profound effects on society. Will these effects be beneficial? No one really knows; but based on selective bits and pieces gathered from some real science, we are being thrust into an emotional frenzy which will prove costly.

  37. Min En permalink
    May 19, 2009

    I totally agree with all the posts regarding how we can promote a cleaner and greener environment.

    But my vote is for more scientific focus on improving indoor air quality. Why?

    Have a look at these quotes from web pages found at the EPA site

    (1) http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html:

    “EPA’s Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) studies found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas.”

    “Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.”

    “Studies have found that levels of several organics average 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. During and for several hours immediately after certain activities, such as paint stripping, levels may be 1,000 times background outdoor levels.”

    (2) http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/insidest.html#Intro1

    “Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.

    “In addition, people who may be exposed to indoor air pollutants for the longest periods of time are often those most susceptible to the effects of indoor air pollution. Such groups include the young, the elderly, and the chronically ill, especially those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular disease.”

    Yes, I am all for improving outdoor air quality. But 90% of the time, we are indoors, at home, in school, in the workplace etc.

    I urge for more attention especially independently-funded scientific peer reviews of all products that claim to improve indoor air quality such as HVAC systems, air purifiers (various technologies like HEPA, POC, and ionic air purifiers), air conditioners etc. Currently, there are a multitude of products in the market but consumers have no way of knowing which technology works and which just burns electricity or may even aggravate the existing indoor air pollution.

    If the EPA believes that indoor air quality is much worse than ambient air, why shouldn’t more scientific resources be channeled here?

    Thank you,
    Min En

  38. LEO BYFORD permalink
    May 19, 2009

    Science is a wonderful tool. Congress decided in 1970, to authorize the development of the EPA. You can have all of the science that you desire, but until EPA decides or is forced to follow the federal laws already in place, one might as well put the science in a bucket and hang it from a flag pole. This planet only has so much water, air, and land. If you look at the impaired waters list, the list on air quality, or the Superfund Program you will find that EPA forgot to follow federal laws and what science is already there. If you look at the Code Of Federal Regulations (CFR) you will find the many federal mandated laws EPA forgot to follow. I would think that if you took a look at any of the mention above and look at the CFR and then see how this applies to your community, you might understand the degrading health of this nation and why our elected officals forgot to inform you about the many hazardous waste issues this nation is now facing each day and then ask yourself why none of them want solutions that will stop this problem and improve your health and your community. Also take a look at the top 5 hazardous materials on the EPA D list and see what is occurring right now in your community.

  39. Gabriel Michas permalink
    May 19, 2009

    Dear Michalene,

    you point a pragmatic case indeed concerning actual current trends. And if you watch this little tiny blue spot from space, our home, once more you will realize the necessity for real great measures. Earth can live without us, but we cannot live without her for sure.

    Practically, any information concept for environmental provision and control could provide partial sustainability, even with characteristics in action at a distance. Biological scale complexity effects with our currents solutions in Climate change forecasts and preventions are still issues hard to coordinate via the resolution of the environmental variables modeling. That is a time relation issue caused of the biological reaction that cannot fit well with our technological maneuverings at time scale results. As an example of this missed synchronization for Geodesic climate topologies renormalization adjustments we now can see these “meteo bombs” climate shifts that eventually will going to surprising us a lot in the future, with a great cost in our economy. It seems to me that we have damage Earth a lot. Among other important issues for our security, water management and quality of drinking water will be the bottom line framework in which later on we did going to be considering for more almost in every science related matter in our daily life from a simple microbiology exam up to hydro politics. As the time passes, climate change and human activity will be more and more related. And by this we will need to take greater consideration about how we will exercise our scientific solutions with wisdom providing national competence in Global excellence and not leave any misconceptions for other countries that we did not working to the right direction.

    Thank you.

  40. Manuel Decoene permalink
    May 19, 2009

    How can we achieve people to recognize eachothers need for help in some domains so they feel better in their habitat?

  41. Frank Monachello permalink
    May 19, 2009

    I agree with Don Olson that the one word “sustainability” really captures what our number one scientific priority should be and there are 10 or 12 sub-categories. However, if you need to break them down it seems clean water, healthy food production and distribution, and clean, renewable energy should be at the top of the list, all built on a foundation of higher community/global education standards.

  42. Frances Hoffman permalink
    May 19, 2009

    Standards and Regulations requiring energy efficiency need to be set, and complementing strong incentive programs to provide the utility companies with financial reasons to encourage less energy use need to be established. This would provide the certainty needed to attract investment in technological innovation and new company and industry starts.

  43. Ron Bedard permalink
    May 19, 2009

    More study of genetically modified organisms (e.g., BT corn, BT soybeans, etc.) should be done. Monsanto is quietly leading a food revolution that, if unchanged, will result in the extinction of non-GMO food. This is currently disguised as a simple patent fight between the Big M and the farmers, but no one is doing any research to determine the long-term consequences of eating only GMO’s. WE used to think that genes didn’t move from place to place on the chromosome and between chromosomes, but recent research has shown that they do. We just don’t know the new rules for this movement.

    Before native strains go extinct, we really ought to know whether GMO’s are actually good for us, really, and not just in somebody’s imagination.

  44. Jose R. Porrata permalink
    May 19, 2009

    What I think is that the scientific attention could and should be well diversified. The question is where doses our actual actions should be focused instead of been so diluted and misdirected. My point is that we have enough knowledge to do things better then we do if we could be better guided, as emergently needed by our world damaged ecosystems. It’s really matter of responsible development and sustainability on every one of our steps or total destruction of human been life conditions on our planet.
    In other words: we need two know more every day about every thing but we need to preserve the future of our next generations. We are responsible to give our descendants the time to solve what we couldn’t.

  45. Frank Blue permalink
    May 19, 2009

    Health Issue come to my mind relative to the Type of Science we should be Targeting. Water Quality / food sources. I believe all Science Issues are Important. After reading all comments Sustainability = Balance across Scientific Spectrums.

  46. Anonymous permalink
    May 19, 2009

    Anywhere except space exploration. It’s fascinating, but we have enough problems here on our own planet.

  47. Sharon permalink
    May 19, 2009

    There must be attention focused on what it is man is doing that could be causing such things as Autism and diseases.

  48. Anonymous permalink
    May 19, 2009

    Let’s kill the pathogenic bacteria at the source using nontoxic products. Not all bacteria are bad for us and we actually have symbiotic relationships with and need many bacteria.

  49. Claire permalink
    May 19, 2009

    impacts of pollutants on children where they live, learn , and play. Too little info leads to weak laws and weaker enforcements.

  50. sharlene neal permalink
    May 19, 2009

    ending the use of genetically altered crops and its use in our foods. we are killing our children. this is why we are all fat too.

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