Monthly Archives: April 2013

Poster Contest Deadline is approaching!

I have talked with lots of students who are excited to submit their posters into the EPA’s Asthma Awareness Poster Contest.  Don’t miss out on this creative and fun learning opportunity!  Enter your poster into the Asthma Awareness Poster Contest by Friday May 10, 2013.  Students in grades 3-8 from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin are invited to enter.  Possible poster topics can include good asthma control and management, avoiding asthma triggers and many others.

Three winners will be chosen from two age groups (3rd-5th grade and 6th-8th grade).  1st place winners will receive recognition on EPA websites, an award certificate and a prize pack.  2nd place winners will receive recognition on EPA websites, an award certificate and a Planet Earth DVD and 3rd place winners will receive recognition on EPA websites.  Please visit the Asthma Poster Contest’s website to learn how to enter.  Don’t forget to highlight your artistic talent and submit a poster by Friday May 10, 2013!

Shelby Egan is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for protecting natural resources, cities she’s never been to and cooking any recipe by The Pioneer Woman.

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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Air Quality Awareness Week: Air Sensors 2013

Demonstrating a new technology at Air Sensors 2013.

Currently, the best way to know what the air quality is on any given day is to check the Air Now website (www.airnow.gov), sign up for “EnviroFlash” e-mail alerts (www.enviroflash.info/), and to check  your local media outlets, both print and broadcast, for announcements about “Air Action Days”—particularly on sultry summer days when they are most prevalent.

But a wave of next-generation air quality sensors is just over the horizon. These innovative technologies promise to make gathering and sharing air data faster and less expensive to gather, more relevant to local conditions (perhaps even down to the individual user), and easier to share. They have the potential to revolutionize air quality monitoring.

As we continue “Air Quality Awareness Week,” regular blogger Dustin Renwick has put together a look at the air sensor technologies that were showcased at last month’s Air Sensor 2013 Conference held at EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Click play on the slide show below, or use the arrows to navigate through. The slideshow is best viewed in Google Chrome or Firefox.  If the slideshow does not work for you, you can view it here.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Air Quality Awareness Week: Greener Hearts Result in a More Enjoyable Summer

By Dr. Wayne Cascio

I was pleased to see that the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report notes that the country’s air is getting cleaner—a perfect way to kick off Air Quality Awareness Week (April 29 through May 3). The report, based on EPA findings from 2009 through 2011, should not only indicate a healthier U.S. public, but also a savings of billions of dollars in reduced medical costs.

As an EPA environmental health researcher, cardiologist, and promoter of our Green Heart initiative to raise awareness of the links between air quality and cardiovascular health, it was rewarding to note the many Agency efforts that have contributed to the improved state of the country’s air quality.

EPA has lead many research efforts to examine the effects of environmental irritants—such as dust, smoke, and smog (which is most prevalent during the approaching summer months)—in the air. Our studies have resulted in recommendations on actions that people predisposed to asthma and heart-related diseases can take to protect their health.

One valuable tool is EPA’s color-coded Air Quality Index, which provides guidelines for at-risk individuals for

School Flag Program

being outdoors or exercising in relation to air quality. A similar program has been introduced at local schools called the School Flag Program. The colored flags displayed on school yard flagpoles alert students, teachers, coaches and the community to the air quality forecast for the day.

According to 2010 EPA data (the most recent year available), benefits from improved air quality helped to avoid 1.7 million asthma attacks and reduced hospital admissions and emergency room visits significantly. Such impacts also yield major savings of medical expenses across the country.

So, as we enter the summer season when air quality issues are common, remember to acquaint yourself with the Air Quality Index and other EPA tools, rely on their guidance to assist you in staying well, and enjoy your summer!

About the Author: Wayne E. Cascio, MD is the Director of EPA’s Environmental Public Health Division, a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. His research explores the effects of air pollution on the heart and blood vessels.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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New York City Re-blooms

By Bonnie Bellow

With New York City street trees in full bloom, I can’t help thinking about my street tree, the one that went down with an unceremonious thud on the night of Hurricane Sandy. For more than 15 years, I have looked out the third floor windows of my Upper West Side apartment and marked the change of seasons by the leaves on that tree. I was awakened many a morning by the chirping of the motley crew of urban birds that sheltered in its branches. Now all that’s left is a monument to that scruffy tree – a stump in a small square of dirt cut out of the sidewalk, framed by a rod iron fence the height of a small dog.

The loss of one tree is really nothing compared to the people who died that terrible night and the vast destruction across the region. But it is something when you realize it was one of an estimated 10,000 New York City street trees toppled by the storm and thousands more in city parks, woodlands and backyards across the city. Trees are critical to making New York City livable. The shade they provide keeps city streets and buildings cooler, making us more comfortable outdoors and reducing the need to use as much energy for air conditioning. Reduced energy use translates directly into improved air quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Trees also remove pollutants from the air, absorb and filter stormwater, reduce noise and just make the city more beautiful.

Now that my tree is gone, I look out on the brick façade of the school across the street. The sun is already streaming unfiltered through the windows, turning my apartment into a hothouse and forcing me to pull down my shades even during the spring. I can only imagine my electric bill this summer when I need to use my air conditioner. I will probably even miss the noisy insects that took up residence in that tree every July.

With the coming of spring, people in our area are starting to rebuild after losses to Hurricane Sandy much more serious than a tree. But sometimes in a disaster, it’s the small things that touch our hearts. I look down my street and see all the trees that survived the storm, some with broken limbs, but still popping with blooms. It gives me hope that sooner or later, a new tree will be growing in that empty patch of dirt and New York City will recover as it always does.

About the Author: Bonnie Bellow has been the Region 2 Director of Public Affairs since 1995, responsible for intergovernmental, media and international relations; community engagement; environmental education; Freedom of Information Act requests; social media and public information. She previously served as Public Affairs Director at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, ran her own media production business and worked as a radio reporter. Bonnie received her Bachelor of Science degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, but is a born and bred New Yorker who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

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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Love that Dirty Water?

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Phil Colarusso

Since 1966, when The Standells recorded “Dirty Water”, millions of fans each year at Fenway Park have sung along to the chorus “love that dirty water, ooh Boston you’re my home”. For decades, those lyrics accurately portrayed the condition of Boston Harbor. Bostonians almost seemed to view the condition of the harbor as a badge of honor and a reflection of the city’s blue collar grittiness.

After a tremendous effort by literally thousands of people and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars, the recovery of Boston Harbor) is an amazing success story. At one time people were advised to get tetanus shots if they came in contact with the water, Boston Harbor now hosts International Cliff Diving competitions and swim races. At one time, fish were covered with obvious tumors and lobsters suffered from black shell disease, now a diversity of marine life exists. Deer Island Flats, once considered one of the most contaminated sites on the planet, now supports eelgrass, one of the most sensitive marine species in our region.

The EPA dive team has recently been documenting some of these positive changes. We’ve conducted dives around a number of the harbor islands and off of Runway 33 at Logan Airport. Improved water quality has allowed a plethora of marine life to flourish. Most Boston residents do not realize that they live on the edge of a true wilderness. A quick peek below the surface reveals sharks, striped bass, harbor seals, lobsters, harbor porpoises and even the occasional wayward humpback whale. Perhaps it is time to retire the iconic Standells hit in favor of The Beatles song Octopus’s Garden. Not quite as catchy for the Fenway faithful, but in 2013 much more accurate.

More info on visiting Boston Harbor islands

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA New England, and is an avid diver. He’s living the dream in Wenham with wife JoAnn, two kids, dog and white picket fence.

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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NEPAssist: One of EPA’s Newest Geospatial Tools

By Amber Tucker

Hi all, this is my first attempt at the blogging world, so please bear with me.  I initially started out intending to major in Journalism so maybe this won’t be as mighty of a feat as I’ve imagined it to be.  Even though I still do enjoy journaling in my personal time, my passion for career choice took a turn in my second semester of college.  It was in a requisite biology course that I took greater notice of and fell in love with wildlife, nature, and the great outdoors.  This led to a change in majors to Environmental Science which in turn, led me to the most amazing workplace I never dreamt I would get to be a part of; EPA.  Since day one, I’ve never stopped learning, and along the way, I’ve had the pleasure of being exposed to and able to utilize some of the most progressive scientific advances.

I think we can all agree that technology is pretty amazing these days; through the remarkable technology of public GIS platforms like Google Earth, you have the ability to essentially tour the world from the comfort of your own living room.  In the words of the late, great Dr. Seuss…”Oh the places you’ll go.”  Well, if you’re like me, with the world at your fingertips and the possibilities endless, the first place you decide to visit…an aerial view of your own home.  Exotic destination, no doubt.  However, there’s certainly some value in checking out your own neighborhood from a different point of view.  It’s good to know what all encompasses your surrounding areas.  You may discover things you never knew about the places you see every day.

EPA has rolled out some new technology that allows you to do just that; spatially discover the world around you, from an environmental perspective. Previously only accessible to EPA employees and contractors, NEPAssist is now available to everyone wanting to take a look at environmental factors and conditions in any given area throughout the country.  A web-based mapping tool, NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by allowing the user to raise and identify important environmental issues at the earliest stages of project development.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970 requires all federal agencies to incorporate environmental considerations in their planning and decision-making through a systematic interdisciplinary process. NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by raising important environmental issues at the primary stages of project development. The mapping tool can be used by Federal agencies to identify alternative project locations, to avoid and minimize impacts, as well as identify potential mitigation areas. It’s a tool that can also help citizens to be aware of and involved in environmental decisions that affect their community.

NEPAssist draws information from publicly available federal, state, and local datasets, allowing NEPA practitioners, stakeholders and the public to view information about environmental conditions within the area of a proposed project quickly and easily at early stages of project development. There’s information on regulated facilities, demographics, water features, historic places, threatened & endangered species, wetlands, and so much more! You can trust me on this, or you can check it out for yourself (even though I assure you I’m trustworthy, I’d go with the latter).

The thought behind this is that NEPAssist could serve as an essential “one-stop shop” to garner environmental information for your desired vicinity.  NEPAssist also houses EJView data, formerly known as the Environmental Justice Geographic Assessment Tool, which is a mapping tool that allows users to create maps and generate detailed reports based on the geographic areas and data sets they choose.  Similar to the likes of Google Maps or Bing Maps, NEPAssist offers a variety of viewing options; Road, Aerial, and in some of the more urban areas, Birds Eye view.  I have to admit, the clarity and close-up image that Birds Eye view affords simultaneously amazes and freaks me out a little; I think I can see my dad’s pickup truck parked in my driveway!


A really cool feature of NEPAssist is the ability for you to define an area and then generate a detailed environmental report for that area. Using this tool, you can draw a point, line, area, or rectangle. You can also specify a buffer area radius for which the report will be generated. Draw your desired area, hit the NEPAssist Report button, and voila! You have yourself an environmental snapshot report. Information in the report will be displayed as a series of questions with yes or no answers based on the location of your project area. Click on a hyperlinked question to view the data source and associated metadata. All of this data, historical and current, available to you with just the push of a button.


This is the same primary and first-line tool we at EPA use to evaluate projects and generate comments. To access this tool and to learn more about NEPAssist and how it can aid you in your NEPA work, please visit the public NEPAssist website at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/nepa/nepassist-mapping.html.  Here you will also find a link to a NEPAssist Demonstration Webinar, as well as other NEPAssist user resources.  EPA is continually striving to enhance the NEPAssist tool to facilitate more efficient and effective federal environmental reviews and project planning.

Pretty neat, right?  I’m all about making well-informed decisions and I appreciate that NEPAssist allows me to become more aware of the environmental conditions and features in my backyard, my neighborhood, my community, my state, and my nation. Today, my cul-de-sac. Tomorrow, the world! Check out our NEPAssist page and create your own environmental knowledge quest.

Amber Tucker is an Environmental Scientist who serves as a NEPA reviewer for EPA Region 7.  She is a graduate of Haskell University and serves as Region 7’s Special Emphasis Program Manager for Native American Employment Programs.

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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La primavera trae muchas cosas

Por Lina Younes

A medida que las temperaturas empiezan a calentar al inicio de la primavera, comenzamos a ver las flores retoñando y los animales despertando de su sueño invernal.Sin embargo, hay algunas cosas que la primavera nos trae que no acogemos con el mismo entusiasmo.Los insectos. No estoy hablando de los insectos que tienen una función beneficiosa como las abejas, mariposas y mariquitas, sino las plagas caseras.

Recientemente, tuve una infestación de hormigas en el piso de mi cocina. Resistí la tentación de agarrar un insecticida en aerosol y vaciarlo en mi cocina.  Opté por buscar la fuente de la infestación y la encontré. ¡La noche anterior había dejado comida en el plato del perro y las hormigas estaban haciendo fiesta! Limpié los platos y toda el área y las hormigas decidieron llevar su fiesta a otra parte. Fue sencillo.

Los principios básicos del plan para el manejo integrado de plagas consisten en no proveer ningún alimento, agua o refugio para las plagas. Si las plagas no encuentran nada que les atraiga o que genere un ambiente acogedor para ellas, esencialmente buscarán otros entornos más amenos. ¿Cuáles son unos consejos básicos para prevenir el que los insectos y otras plagas domésticas invadan su hogar? He aquí algunas sugerencias:

  • ·La limpieza es fundamentar y es una manera excelente de disuadir a las plagas en el hogar.
  • ·No deje los platos, vasos y ollas sucias en el fregadero por la noche.
  • ·No deje migas, líquidos y alimentos derramados encima de la mesa o el piso. Solo sirven como imanes para los insectos cuando usted está fuera de la casa.
  • ·Repare las fugas y goteos. No deje el agua acumulada en la cocina, baño o tiestos.
  • ·Elimine el desorden de periódicos, bolsas y cajas amontonados. El desorden se convierte en un entorno muy acogedor para las plagas no deseadas.

Si pese a sus mejores esfuerzos de limpieza, las plagas domésticas invaden su hogar, seleccione plaguicidas legales aprobados por la Agencia de Protección Ambiental para la plaga que esté causando problemas en su hogar. Lea las instrucciones en la etiqueta cuidadosamente. Al seguir las prácticas para el manejo integrado de plagas, tendrá un hogar más sano y saludable para usted y su familia. De no ser así, estaría enviando una invitación sin saberlo a las plagas para invadir su hogar.

¿Tiene algunos consejos para combatir las plagas? Compártalos con nosotros.

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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Evaluating Technologies for Greenhouse Gas Mitigation

To celebrate Earth Day and the Agency’s effort to expand the conversation on climate change, we are highlighting EPA climate change research with Science Matters articles this week.

Breaking Through? Evaluating Technologies for Greenhouse Gas Mitigation
EPA modelers develop innovative methods to assess low-carbon technologies.

Much of the energy we use to power our homes, cars, and industries is also the main source of greenhouse gases (GHG) responsible for global climate change. It follows then, that limiting emissions from the combustion of these energy sources could contribute toward a stable, sustainable environmental future.

Developing new “game changing” technologies and energy sources will be important to mitigate GHG emissions cost-effectively. But how can today’s decision makers identify technologies with true transformational potential for reducing global climate change over the long term?

EPA scientists and engineers are helping answer just that question. They are using sophisticated computer models to support decision makers by comparing potential mitigation technologies in terms of cost, environmental performance, economic impact, and more.

In one such effort, the results of which were recently presented in the journal Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy, EPA physical scientist Dan Loughlin and his research colleagues used an innovative modeling approach tapping the MARKet ALlocation (MARKAL) model to demonstrate a “breakthrough analysis” that researchers can use to identify technologies that can make a true difference in reducing GHG emissions.

MARKAL was created in the late 1970s by Brookhaven National Laboratory scientists to help partner researchers and others wade through the complex and far reaching differences and tradeoffs involved in making decisions and policies related to energy use. Over the next several decades, the model was improved and reworked to support new functionality, and to take advantage of increasing computational power. It is now one of several models that EPA’s own climate change researchers use.

“Breakthrough” in this case refers to a technology that can limit GHG emissions significantly and cost-effectively over the long haul, explains Loughlin. “We developed a methodology to examine the breakthrough potential of energy-related technologies, taking into account the complexities of the entire energy system.”

The researchers focused on MARKAL because of its comprehensive coverage of the energy system, from the importation, production, or manufacture of a particular energy source, right through its distribution and end use by a whole variety of interacting sectors.

“For example, using MARKAL we might ask ‘What would happen if the cost of solar photovoltaic technology goes down to 20 cents per kilowatt hour? Would it penetrate the market and yield significant reductions in GHG? Using MARKAL this way allows us to incorporate important multi-sectoral interactions in our analysis that would not be possible with less powerful tools,” says EPA engineer William Yelverton, who contributed to the breakthrough technology approach.

To demonstrate how such an approach could be used to support greenhouse gas mitigation decisions, Loughlin, Yelverton, and their EPA colleague Rebecca Dodder focused on a breakthrough analysis of utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV). Their calculations suggest, for instance, that an 80% drop in the price of photovoltaics would lower the cost of cutting carbon dioxide emissions in the United States in half by $270 billion—potentially making it a technology breakthrough.

The research team plans to use this approach to evaluate and compare the breakthrough potential of additional energy technologies. In their paper, they and their coauthors write:

Fortunately, as a society, we have shown a great ability to innovate. Technology breakthroughs have led to putting humans on the moon and to downsizing electronics so that the smart phones in our pockets are more powerful than the supercomputers of several decades ago. Similar breakthroughs in low- and zero-carbon energy technologies will be needed to meet GHG mitigation goals identified as being necessary by the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]. This need raises important questions, such as ‘What constitutes a breakthrough?’ and ‘Where would breakthroughs be achieved most readily and most cost effectively?

Together, EPA researchers Loughlin, Yelverton, Dodder and their partners are working to answer those questions, and help provide the science and tools needed to address global climate change.

Learn More

EPA Climate Change Research

EPA Climate Change Methods, Models, Tools, and Databases

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Getting an Up Close Look at Innovative Solutions in Seattle

By Nancy Stoner

Earlier this month, I spent several days in Seattle meeting with EPA’s staff that work on water policies and programs in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to our meetings, they took me to visit the High Point housing development in West Seattle. High Point is a mixed income Seattle Housing Authority community that has lovely views of the city center, is highly walkable and features natural stormwater drainage designs that give the development a beautiful visual appearance and virtually no polluted runoff. Working with municipalities to address stormwater issues, which can vary greatly across the country, is a priority for EPA.

The natural drainage at High Point is not only filled with blooming flowers and greenery that make it a desirable neighborhood for home buyers, but it has performed much better than anticipated to limit pollution flowing into downstream waters that empty into Puget Sound.

My visit to Seattle also included a tour of Puget Sound, one of the most ecologically diverse ecosystems in North America. EPA works closely with state, local, federal and tribal partners to protect and restore the sound through the Puget Sound Partnership. We traveled out to Commencement Bay to see former Superfund sites that are now being developed for mixed uses. Nearby beaches are trash-free thanks to frequent community cleanups.  It was great to see that area come back to life, not just economically, but also for the bald eagles, sea lions, seals and ducks that were also enjoying the cool spring day.

My trip to Seattle ended with a visit to the stormwater research lab at Washington State University.  They have some exciting research underway on how to clean highway runoff to protect salmon. The Pacific Northwest is, of course, known worldwide for its salmon fisheries. Salmon are quite sensitive to water pollution, and the Pacific Northwest has made great strides in protecting water quality and habitat using natural drainage systems, transfer of development rights programs and many other efforts.

We talk a lot about finding innovative solutions here at EPA—we recently released a blueprint for integrating technology innovation into EPA’s national water program—so it was especially heartening to see all of the progressive work happening in Seattle to address key environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.

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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Earth Day and the Next Generation

By Gabrielle Thompson

Do you know how many people observe our great earth on Earth Day? According to the Earth Day Network (http://www.earthday.org/2013/about.html), more than one billion people participate in Earth Day activities. That is a very significant number considering that when I was a school girl growing up in small-town, Alabama in the 1970’s, I had never heard of Earth Day; not to mention Earth Day activities. What was that? Thank goodness for the growing support of environmental awareness. Today, school children from around the world celebrate Earth Day with activities varying from one day to sometimes a week.

Stan Walker (a colleague of mine shown to the right) and I were invited to Delaware Ridge Elementary School, in Kansas City, Kansas earlier this year to share our thoughts on environmental protection. What can be more fun than 3 classrooms of happy go-lucky fourth graders? The time went by quickly as Stan and I treated them to our presentation. Who doesn’t love a PowerPoint presentation? That’s a rhetorical question.

Anyway, we tried to keep it light and informative. I begin by giving some interesting tidbits about EPA and how we protect our health by ensuring our air, water, and soil/land are safe. The kids really liked many of the examples I shared of Region 7’s commitment to the environment especially those about our assisting with Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, Joplin after the tornado, and the Gulf after the oil spill.

Stan followed up with concrete examples of Region 7’s Superfund activities by showing how seemingly impossible and abandoned residential areas can be transformed into beautiful living areas for all to enjoy in our own backyards (before and after shots below). He stressed the importance of different stakeholders (federal, state, city and the community) working collaboratively to make change happen.

Gabrielle Thompson is an environmental scientist in EPA’s Environmental Services Division (ENSV) and has worked at EPA for 5 years.  She is single and loves to cook, zumba and travel.

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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