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Celebrating the 45th Earth Day

by Jennie Saxe

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was held as a national “teach-in” on environmental issues. That day, rallies and conferences were held across the country to get Americans engaged in environmental protection. For a look at the first Earth Day rallies in Philadelphia, check out the history and videos compiled by the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia, including footage from news reports on the first Earth Week.

As we celebrate the 45th Earth Day, staff in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office are participating in many events that honor the environmental education focus of the day. Even though the Healthy Waters blog is all about water, our Earth Day outreach featured much, much more!

Last Saturday, dozens of EPA employees took advantage of the beautiful weather to lace up their sneakers for the Clean Air Council’s Run for Clean Air. This race, beginning near the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, follows the Schuylkill River – a source of drinking water for the City of Philadelphia – for much of its route.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies' Red Goes Green game.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game.

Yesterday, EPA celebrated Earth Day all across the region. Employees shared tips to protect the environment with rail commuters at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, with students at the National Constitution Center, with sports fans at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game, and with everyone working and living at Fort Meade in Maryland.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center's Earth Day event.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center’s Earth Day event.

But wait…the week isn’t over yet! Look for EPA at Temple-Ambler’s EarthFest on Friday, April 24, and at Core Creek Park for the Bucks County Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 25.

In case EPA’s Earth Day outreach didn’t make it to your neighborhood this year, check out these links for a “virtual Earth Day” experience:

  • Save water and money with WaterSense labeled products
  • Protect local waterways by disposing of expired medication properly
  • Use less water in your landscaping by planting species native to the mid-Atlantic – they’re easy to grow and create habitat for birds and butterflies
  • Keep pollution out of our streams by using green infrastructure to soak up rainwater in your yard

Earth Day doesn’t have to come just once a year! Let us know how you plan to make #EarthDayEveryDay.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. For Earth Day, she’s installing rain barrels to slow the flow of rainwater across her yard.

 

 

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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Progress Toward Cleaner Water Isn’t Just Pass-Fail

by Jon Capacasa
Imagine your child brings home a test with a failing grade. With time, her grades improve to a solid “C” or a “B.” Before the year is over, she earns an occasional “A.” Though she hasn’t achieved “straight A” performance, you celebrate her improvement with hopes it will motivate her toward future successes.

Looking back over 42 years of the federal Clean Water Act, there have been similar, incredibly positive improvements in the quality of our nation’s waters which deserve attention. No longer are rivers on fire or are streams serving as open sewers. Visible pollution is way down. However, the job of sharing the news about these improvements has been difficult.

Capturing progress is complicated by a “pass or fail” approach to declaring “attainment” – or full achievement – of water quality standards. In the world of water quality standards, waterbodies are either in non-attainment (an “F” grade) or full attainment (an “A”). Adding complexity, a waterway can be in attainment for some activities (like swimming, recreational use, and fish consumption) and not others. Telling the story of water quality improvements can be complicated; however, EPA is committed to telling more stories of incremental progress using hard data and good science.

One tale of improvement is the story of the Delaware River. In the 1970s, its water quality was so bad that the spring and summer dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in the Philadelphia-Camden stretch bottomed out to “zero” during many weeks. The lack of oxygen was a roadblock to migratory fish who could not navigate the river for spawning. Building on decades of work by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), basin states, and municipal wastewater treatment plants, EPA’s Clean Water Act construction funding and enforcement of proper discharge permits spurred a tremendous rebound for the river. Now, according to DRBC, there is less of a summertime drop in DO levels and the current standard is met much of the time. Shad can now run in the spring to spawn, without being blocked by a low-oxygen zone. However, achievement of the current DO standard is still only a milestone of progress, and not the final goal; protection of aquatic life may require additional protective criteria. Regardless, everyone involved in bringing this great turnaround deserves recognition. The Delaware River waterfront now attracts many visitors to it every year – a huge benefit to local businesses. In fact, the University of Delaware estimated the economic benefit of a healthy Delaware River to be over $10 billion a year.

There is less of a summertime drop in DO levels near the Ben Franklin Bridge and the current standard is met much of the time. Graphic courtesy of DRBC.

There is less of a summertime drop in DO levels near the Ben Franklin Bridge, (Philadelphia to New Jersey), and the current standard is met much of the time. Graphic courtesy of DRBC.

There is progress on another front, too: legacy contaminants in river sediments. Legacy contaminants, such as PCBs are remnants of past activities that remain in the environment and affect fish health. While they last for a long time, DRBC reports that PCB loadings are down significantly and a fish consumption advisory in Delaware was eased in late 2013.

The Delaware River is improving, but the job is far from done. In some ways, the job may be getting harder as we deal with new types of contaminants. Recognizing progress as it happens, without the constraints of a pass-fail approach, is a win for everyone: watershed groups gain support for their efforts and public and private groups realize early returns on their investments as water quality improves.

 

About the author: Jon Capacasa is the Director of the Water Protection Division in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region.

 

 

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 Safe Drinking Water Act: A Playbook for Public Health Protection

by Jennie Saxe

hoop close up other angleCollege basketball fans have witnessed this phenomenon countless times over the past few weeks: the game-changer. The play in a game where the momentum shifts. After this play, the outcome of the game is a lock…or all of a sudden, it hangs in the balance.

There are many game-changers in the world of water protection, and the Safe Drinking Water Act, passed 40 years ago, is one of them. Before this legislation, “Team Pollution” had momentum: the early history of drinking water is marked by outbreaks of waterborne disease and inadequate water treatment systems. But when the Safe Drinking Water Act passed, the pendulum swung the other way, in favor of “Team Protection.”

In the mid-Atlantic region, we’re acutely aware of the protections that the Safe Drinking Water Act and its amendments have brought us. The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund has allowed upgrades to water treatment plants from White Sulphur Springs, WV, to Ulster Township, PA, and countless places in-between. Source water protection partnerships, like the Potomac Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership and the Schuylkill Action Network, focus on protecting drinking water at its source. And an updated Total Coliform Rule will further protect public health in large and small communities across the region.

More than 27 million people in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region rely on public water systems protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act. From cities in Pennsylvania to rural parts of Virginia, from municipal water systems in Washington, DC, to the smallest mobile home parks, schools, and rest stops across the region, this law protects everyone that relies on that water for drinking, cooking, and more.

If the Safe Drinking Water Act is the playbook for protecting public health, each one of us can be part of Team Protection. Make a big play – check out what you can do to protect drinking water.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She spent her first 7 years at EPA working in the Region’s drinking water program.

 

 

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 Promise of Permeable Pavement

by Jeanna Henry

Permeable pavement products can be used together with other green infrastructure.

When it rains, or as snow and ice melt, I frequently notice streams of water running off of my lawn, onto the street, into the storm sewer, and ultimately to a local waterway. I’ve also noticed an increase in flooded roadways and neighborhoods in my area even after a moderate to heavy rain. Unfortunately, stormwater is not just a localized issue, it is a problem across the country. As the saying goes: when it rains, it pours.

Flooding results in economic costs, human health impacts, and environmental damage in its wake. A major factor in more frequent flooding events is the increasing cover of impervious surfaces, such as roadways, parking lots and rooftops. Since these hard surfaces do not allow stormwater to naturally seep into the ground, most rainfall turns into runoff. With continuing development and growth, what options are available to minimize the effects of impervious surfaces? A more sustainable solution is to replace or substitute conventional pavements with permeable pavements – a green infrastructure tool.

Porous asphalt allows water to drain through it.

Porous asphalt allows water to drain through it.

Permeable pavements include pervious concrete, porous asphalt, and permeable interlocking pavers that mimic nature by capturing, infiltrating, treating, and/or storing rainwater where it falls. EPA considers these materials a Best Management Practice (BMP) for the management of stormwater runoff. Permeable pavements also provide multiple benefits beyond stormwater management and reducing localized flooding: they also have the ability to improve water quality; reduce the “heat island” effect in urban areas; reduce roadway hazards like ponding water and icing; create green jobs; and can increase the livability and resiliency of communities and increase property values when used with other green infrastructure. In fact, these benefits are already being realized throughout EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region.

Permeable pavements along with green infrastructure are effective ways to address flooding as well as supporting green, sustainable growth. So the next time it rains, think about where permeable pavements and other types of green infrastructure could fit into your community.

 

About the author: Jeanna Henry joined EPA in 2000 as an Environmental Scientist. She currently works in the Water Protection Division focusing on stormwater management through the use of Green Infrastructure. Jeanna loves nothing more than spending time outdoors with family and friends hiking, kayaking, or spending a day at the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

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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Native Plants: Special Effects for the Environment

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

Native plants from the mid-Atlantic area

Native plants from the mid-Atlantic area

Celebrating “the Magic of the Movies,” the 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show opens this weekend at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Each year, the Flower Show provides a prelude to spring, and a temporary escape from the cold and snow of a typical Philadelphia winter for its hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Watching a good movie can provide a great two-to- three hour escape where the unreal becomes convincingly real. Whether it’s a fictional land inhabited by mythical creatures; a time and place long forgotten; or a futuristic world in a distant galaxy, movie magic and special effects can make anything and everything appear real.

This year, EPA’s Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit “Now Showing at a Garden Near You,” featuring a cast of aquatic plants including azaleas, laurels, dogwoods, pitcher plants, phlox, and many other varieties of flora native to the mid-Atlantic region, demonstrates a magical yet very real, healthy and balanced garden ecosystem.

Using native plants from your area can provide many benefits for the environment including a source of food and habitat for pollinators, beneficial insects and other wildlife. Native plant communities also provide a sustainable way of fighting off colonization by those pesky invasive species.

Since natives require relatively little maintenance, they help save both time and money, and using native plants contributes to a healthy ecosystem that provides important ecological services like flood abatement, and filtering and replenishing groundwater.

If you plan to visit the Philadelphia Flower Show, stop by the EPA Exhibit and see how you can create a sustainable escape by applying “special effects” that will make your yard beautiful to look at, while reducing pollution and maintenance costs at the same time. The Philadelphia Flower Show runs from February 28 through March 8, 2015.

 

About the Author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the Communications Coordinator in the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division of EPA’s mid-Atlantic region.

 

 

 

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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Taking out the Trash

by Tom Damm

 

Trash and litter in our waterways can be harmful to our health, the environment, and the economy.

Trash and litter in our waterways can be harmful to our health, the environment, and the economy.

When EPA representatives met with 4th graders in Maryland last year to observe their work as “stream stewards,” many of the students had the same comment – there’s too much trash in the water.

One young girl told us, “People need to protect our world from getting dirty…because some people throw trash on the ground and they don’t pick it up so we need to tell them to recycle so we don’t get pollution in the water.”

That’s the basic idea – although in far more technical terms – behind steps taken by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia under the Clean Water Act to control trash impacting two major rivers – the Anacostia and the Patapsco.

Trash and debris washed or dumped into our waterways pose more than aesthetic problems. They’re a serious health hazard to people, wildlife and fish and can have economic impacts. Trash harms birds and marine life who consume small pieces, mistaking them for food. In fact, a shard of a plastic DVD case was identified as the cause of the recent death of an endangered sei whale in Virginia’s Elizabeth River. Some of the waste contains chemicals and pathogens that affect water quality.

In 2010, the Maryland and District of Columbia environmental agencies combined to develop strict pollution limits, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), for trash in the Anacostia River. It was the first – and is still the only – interstate trash TMDL in the country.

And then earlier this month, EPA approved a TMDL submitted by the Maryland Department of the Environment for parts of the Patapsco River to deal with trash problems in Baltimore area streams and its famous harbor. The department worked closely with the City and County of Baltimore and with environmental stakeholders on the final product.

One of the ways trash is already being removed from Baltimore Harbor is through an innovative water wheel that collects it. Check out this video and story to see how it works.

And visit this site for tips on what you can do to keep trash out of waterways.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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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A Revolutionary Resolution in Philadelphia

by Randy Pomponio

Fairmount Water Works   Randy Pomponio with representatives from: Philadelphia City Council, Clean Water Action, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Business Network

EPA’s Randy Pomponio with representatives from: Philadelphia City Council, Clean Water Action, Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Business Network

One does not have to look far to find history in the City of Philadelphia. Whether it’s the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, or America’s first zoo, Philadelphia has played a pivotal role throughout our nation’s history.

Earlier this year, Philadelphia again made history when its City Council unanimously passed a resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, supporting EPA’s and the Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed Waters of the U.S. rule clarifying streams and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act. This environmentally historic event gives Philadelphia the distinction of being the first U.S. city to pass such a resolution in support of clean water.

On August 6, I was privileged to be part of an event recognizing this important milestone at Philadelphia’s historic Fairmount Water Works. As I shared the stage with members of Philadelphia City Council; Clean Water Action; the Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership; and the Philadelphia Sustainable Business Network, I was reminded of the type of diverse partnership that called for additional clarity in defining protected waters.

While the Clean Water Act has protected our right to safe and pristine waters for more than 40 years, determining protections under the Act for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. Many different entities representing local governments, industry, and environmental groups asked EPA for clarification of what is a “water of the United States.” The proposed rule responds to the request and is designed to clear the confusion and provide a more definitive explanation.

This is critical because the health of our larger water bodies – our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the network of streams and wetlands where they begin. These streams and wetlands benefit all of us by trapping floodwaters, removing pollution, recharging groundwater supplies and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. They’re also a source for outdoor recreation activities, providing essential economic benefits. One in three Americans and more than 1.5 million Philadelphians get at least some of their drinking water directly or indirectly from seasonal, headwaters, or rain dependent streams.

The City of Philadelphia and its partners made history in promoting clean water. Your input can help ensure that future generations enjoy a history of clean and healthy waters. EPA is accepting public comments through October 20, 2014.

 

About the Author: Randy Pomponio is the Director of the EPA Region 3 Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division. He enjoys learning about our fascinating ecosystems and experiencing them through hiking, fishing, scuba diving, and best of all, sharing them with his children and grandchildren.

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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Green Infrastructure Research All-STARs

by Ken Hendrickson and Jennie Saxe

 

An example of green infrastructure to help in managing urban stormwater.

An example of green infrastructure to help in managing urban stormwater.

A few weeks ago, Major League Baseball (MLB) held its annual All-Star Game. This is a chance for the best players from across MLB to work together and showcase their talents. EPA recently had a chance to host an “all-star” event of its own. On July 24, EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region and EPA’s Office of Research and Development hosted a kick-off meeting of researchers who received Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants. Since this was a kick-off meeting, it felt like less like a mid-season break, and more like spring training.

Like a baseball team focused on winning the pennant, these researchers are all focused on one goal: understanding the performance and effectiveness of green infrastructure in an urban setting. Five colleges and universities received a total of nearly $5 million from EPA to focus research on green infrastructure in Philadelphia. These research projects, announced on a snowy day this past January, will support the groundbreaking Green City, Clean Waters Partnership agreement between EPA and the City of Philadelphia.

Why would the research teams meet when the research hasn’t yet begun? This type of meeting provides researchers with a full picture of all of the research that is planned, and allows researchers to identify opportunities for collaboration. In this way, the individual teams can better understand where, how, and what their peers will be investigating. Proposals were developed several months ago, and it’s important to discuss the plans, processes, and research sites that have been refined since the projects were funded.

While the research may be conducted by these “academic all-stars,” it is much more than an academic exercise: the research is happening on the ground in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, and – by making it easier and cheaper to protect water quality through greening communities – the benefits will go to the residents of the city. In addition to the more than 30 researchers who attended to present their plans, dozens more people learned about the research plans by attending via webinar – maybe they will be inspired to pursue green infrastructure projects in their communities.

In research, as in baseball, with hard work comes important results. We’re certain that when we check back with these researchers in a few years, they will have many more insights to share.

 

About the authors: Ken Hendrickson and Jennie Saxe work in the Water Protection Division of EPA’s Region 3 office in Philadelphia.

 

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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Rain is Natural, But Run-Off is Not

by Andrea Bennett

Potted daylilies and ivy in a parking area help transform an impermeable surface into one that captures rainwater.

Potted plants in a parking area help transform an impermeable surface into one that captures rainwater.

While we know that forests, meadows, and other plantings help slow the flow of rainwater and filter out pollutants, some towns (including mine) still have zoning laws prohibiting homeowners from replacing impermeable surfaces with vegetation.

These ordinances may not make the most sense from an environmental standpoint, but they can inspire homeowners to get creative about adapting impervious surfaces around the house to absorb rainfall and prevent polluted run-off.

For example, in my case, I realized that putting plants on top of an impermeable surface, mimicking more natural ground cover, could make a real difference. The daylilies and ivy we now have in our parking area are helping to soak up rain before it becomes run-off.

When rain falls onto impervious surfaces that have pet waste, leaked oil, and lawn chemicals, they transport that polluted run-off to local creeks and rivers. By keeping the rain from contacting the pollution on land, or slowing down the movement of polluted stormwater, we give our local waterways a better chance of staying healthy.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension has crunched the numbers on how much runoff a medium-size house and lot in Virginia could generate, and they might surprise you.

They found that a 1,600 square foot roof and 750 square feet of driveway and sidewalks results in a total of 2,350 square feet of impervious surface. With just a half-inch of rain, more than 700 gallons of water would run off – enough to fill about 15 bathtubs! During a bigger or longer storm event, even more rain would turn to run-off.

There are even more ways to keep rain from turning into polluted run-off. Around your home, you could build a rain garden; install permeable surfaces; sweep your driveways and walkways; pick up litter; and fix oil and antifreeze leaks from automobiles.

As for me, I plan to install a rain barrel to help capture rainwater to reuse in my yard. Keep an eye out for local rain barrel workshops in your town: these workshops explain how to construct a rain barrel from a plastic 55-gallon drum, so you can use the water it collects to water plants.

What else can you do around your home to make sure rain doesn’t turn into polluted run-off? Let us know in the comments.

 

About the Author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and she is a member of her local watershed protection team.

 

 

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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Our Friends, the Freshwater Mussels

Freshwater mussels found the Brandywine River

Freshwater mussels found in the Brandywine River

by Andrea Bennett

No, we can’t eat them, but they are kind of cute – as far as mussels go. And these little bivalves do something that we could only do if we spent millions of dollars constructing a filtration plant: they filter out pollution from our drinking water sources. In fact, one adult mussel can filter up to 15 gallons of water per day; a 6-mile stretch of mussel beds can filter out over 25 tons of particulates per year!

Mussels are sometimes referred to as “biosentinels” – a living indicator of the presence of chemical contaminants or microbial pathogens. Because the presence of freshwater mussels means that a watershed is healthy, they provide a low-cost way to monitor water quality.

I was lucky enough to go on a mussel monitoring outreach event in the Brandywine River with The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. We visited a land-locked pond near the Brandywine, where we found adult eastern floater mussels, which can live to over 70 years old! We also found younger mussels – about 8 years old – but no “babies.” We then went to the Brandywine River, where we found eastern elliptio, but unfortunately, no young mussels. At both places, we found corroded and disintegrating shells.

Back in the early 1900s, there were about 14 species of native freshwater mussels in the Delaware River Basin. Now, it’s difficult to find anything but eastern elliptio in the Delaware watershed. Most importantly, you can’t find juveniles. Mussels reproduce by releasing larvae, called glochidia, which attach to the gills or fins of fish (the fish don’t know they are there). In about 3 weeks, the glochidia fall off the fish to grow into juvenile mussels. Research shows that mussels are still releasing the glochidia, but the juveniles are not surviving.

Scientists from the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, with support from EPA and other agencies, are looking into what’s making it difficult for freshwater mussels to reproduce and survive. In 2013, EPA published new recommendations for how much ammonia can be in surface water. These recommendations will help states work with dischargers and sources of non-point source pollution to better protect aquatic life, especially freshwater mussels.

You can get involved too! The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary has freshwater mussel volunteer monitoring activities. If you’re in southwestern Virginia, you might be interested in projects in the Clinch River, which has more freshwater mussel species than any other river in North America.

Protecting these small, barely noticeable aquatic animals – so they can live, reproduce, and filter the water – also protects us, by improving the quality of our waterways.

 

About the author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and she is a member of her local watershed protection team.

 

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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