water

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To the Tide Pool, Following Literary Footsteps

By Phil Colarusso

I recently had the good fortune of visiting Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Before the sun was fully up, I journeyed from my hotel to look through some tide pools.Tidepool

Tide pools in the Pacific Ocean are very different from our pools in the Northeast. The western pools are dominated by colorful sea anemones and large sea stars. These are the tide pools that inspired Ed Ricketts, the real life marine biologist who became the Doc Ricketts character in John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row. Ricketts wrote the definitive book on West Coast intertidal organisms, called Between Pacific Tides.

For many budding marine biologists, Doc Ricketts was the quintessential marine biologist. His office was a laboratory with a multitude of fish tanks hosting all manners of creatures. His schedule was dictated by the tides, not by the clock. He was a man, who felt most comfortable in hip boots with a net in one hand and collecting jars in the other. He had an unusually keen sense of environmental issues for his time – the 1940s – railing against overfishing in the book The Log from the Sea of Cortez, which he and John Steinbeck co-wrote.tidepool2

Like Ricketts, I have spent many happy hours flipping rocks in tide pools. I don’t know if Ricketts believed that the answers to many of life’s mysteries could be found in a tide pool, but I suspect that he did. My favorite passage from The Log of the Sea of Cortez reflects Ricketts understanding of the interconnectedness of all things:

And if we seem a small factor in a huge pattern, nevertheless it is of relative importance. We take a tiny colony of soft corals from a rock in a little water world. And that isn’t terribly important to the tide pool. Fifty miles away the … shrimp boats are dredging with overlapping scoops, bringing up tons of shrimps, rapidly destroying the species so that it may never come back, and with the species destroying the ecological balance of the whole region.  That isn’t very important in the world. And thousands of miles away the great bombs are falling and the stars are not moved thereby. None of it is important or all of it is.

As I look into tide pools today, the reflection back is no longer a young marine biologist, but a kindred spirit of Ed Ricketts, who understands and appreciates the interconnectedness of life.

 

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA’s New England office, and is an avid diver.

 

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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Spring Cleaning Can Be Even Healthier using Green Products

The welcome return of spring sunshine makes me think of one thing – grimy, winter-weary windows. And then there’s the fridge, the baseboards, the carpets, the bathroom grout, the kitchen cabinets. All these little spots we ignored all winter are now ready for a thorough scrub. No wonder nearly 75 percent of Americans like to do a good spring cleaning.

Good thing you can use the EPA Safer Choice label to help you find cleaning and other household products that are made with ingredients that are safer for people and the environment.

Healthy Choices

That’s a great assurance, considering household cleaning products are one source of indoor air pollution, which can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Products with safer ingredients improve indoor air quality and can lower the risk of health hazards, including respiratory conditions like asthma; allergic reactions, which can cause skin rashes, hives or headaches; and a variety of other conditions. Children and older people, in particular, are more susceptible to risks — so they’re better off in spaces cleaned with safer products and wearing clothes cleaned with a laundry detergent that uses safer solvents and surfactants.  And what about parents and those who regularly clean and do the wash, coming in close contact with cleaners and detergents? Safer is certainly better for them. Safer Choice recognizes that everyday cleaning products make a big difference to your family’s well-being.

Cleaners also affect the quality of our local streams, rivers and lakes. When Safer Choice products get rinsed down the drain and make their way into the watershed, they are less toxic to fish and other aquatic life. That’s good news for New England’s iconic waterways, whether it’s Lake Champlain, the Charles River or Long Island Sound… or the ponds, streams and wetlands found throughout New England.

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Here’s something that may surprise you. Unlike food producers, cleaning product manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on their containers or make them public. But to display the Safer Choice label, manufacturers must list all of their product’s ingredients either on the product or on an easy-access website.

Safer Choice is the first federal label for cleaning products and it is proving incredibly popular. More than 2,000 products have already earned the right to carry the logo. They’re available in local grocery stores and hardware stores, and include cleaners for use at home, offices, schools, hotels and sports venues.

The agency’s website (https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice) lists all the products that proudly carry the Safer Choice label. We also offer interactive tools to find the best cleaning products for your home and for businesses like schools, hotels, offices, and sports venues. And my personal favorite – cleaners for those grimy windows.

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator, US EPA Region 1 (New England 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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Water for Emergencies: Bigger Solutions than Bottled Water

By Lauren Wisniewski

It is easy to take our drinking water and wastewater services for granted.  Most, if not all, of us have lost electricity in our homes, but I can recall only one time when I turned on my faucet and I had no tap water. That time was in November 2010, just a day after coming home from the hospital after giving birth to my twin daughters.

I panicked. I sent my husband down to the basement to get our emergency supply of bottled water, which I bought soon after I started working on water infrastructure resilience and emergency preparedness. Those bottles were long expired. I was ready to send him to the store to buy bottled water (which may not be an option in a wide-scale event). Thankfully, my sister quickly determined that our outage was due to water main repairs on our street and the county utility workers soon had our water working again.

Though our water outage was brief, it highlighted the importance of preparedness both at the personal and utility level. In our home, my family now stores an ample emergency  supply water in our basement as part of our emergency supplies, and I make sure to replace it before it expires. In our community, I know that my county is prepared for power outages, too. It has stand-by emergency generators or transfer switches to connect readily to a portable generator at its water pumping stations and has enough fuel to power its generators for several days. To find out more about building power resilience at your water utility, check out the Power Resilience Guide for Drinking Water and Wastewater Utilities, which provides tips, case studies, and short videos to help ensure your vital water services continue even during power outages.

The last few years, I have combined my passion for emergency preparedness and knowledge of water utilities to focus on increasing power resilience at drinking water and wastewater utilities across the country.  Check out EPA’s Power to Keep Water Moving video that highlights the importance of power resilience at water utilities.

About the author: Lauren Wisniewski has worked as an environmental engineer in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Water, since 2002.  Her efforts have been directed towards power resilience at water utilities, Multi-Sector Infrastructure Protection, Climate Ready Water Utilities, Active and Effective Security, Water Quality Standards, and watershed modeling.  Her work involves coordination between drinking water and wastewater utilities and state, local, and federal agencies.  Lauren has a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering (BSE), summa cum laude, in Civil Engineering from Duke University and a Masters of Public Health (MPH) from George Washington University.

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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Celebrate New England’s National Parks

By Gina Snyder

This is a year of anniversaries for the Boston Harbor and Islands. Twenty-five years ago the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority announced that no more sludge would be dumped into the harbor. After over 100 years of discharges to the harbor, this was a real milestone and it opened the way for the Boston Harbor Islands to become a unit of the National Park System 20 years ago. And just a decade ago, Spectacle Island, reclaimed from a former landfill, was opened for visitors.

While the first National Park was created on March 1st, 1872, it wasn’t until 100 years ago this year that we had a National Park Service. What better way to celebrate the first National Park and the 100th anniversary of the Park Service than for New Englanders to visit the island jewels in Boston Harbor and celebrate the environmental milestones at the same time?  Ferries run in summer to some of the 34 islands in the park, including Spectacle Island and George’s Island (www.nps.gov/boha).

Visiting our National Parks is a great way to enjoy nature. As of this year, Massachusetts has sixteen National Park locations DeerIsland.NPservice(www.nps.gov/ma) among twenty-seven national parks plus several national historic sites and scenic trails in all of New England. Ranging from small historic sites to a 2,180-mile long public footpath known as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that runs from Maine to Georgia, these parks give you a variety of choices for celebrating the centennial.

If it’s a small historic site you want, why not head to JFK’s birthplace in Brookline or Washington’s headquarters at the Longfellow House in Cambridge. And if it’s a wilderness hike in nature, check out one or all 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail as it runs through the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains, through Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont each have one National Park – Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont. Maine and Rhode Island each have two sites. In Maine – well-known Acadia National Park and Saint Croix Island International Historic Site, home of the earliest French presence in North America. And in Rhode Island, Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence and Touro Synagogue National Historic Site in Newport.

Celebrating our national parks lets us get outside to enjoy the environment. Here in the Boston area, it’s an advantage that you can get to many of our nearby parks by public transit. The three right in Boston are easily accessible: Besides the Harbor Islands, Boston’s National Historic Park is at Faneuil Hall (www.nps.gov/bost) and the Boston African American National Historic Site and meeting house is centered on the north slope of Beacon Hill (www.nps.gov/boaf).

In this year of centennial celebration for the National Park Service you are invited to get out and find your park, ( www.nps.gov/subjects/centennial/findyourpark.htm) but with the success of the Boston Harbor clean up, you can get out and find your island.

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About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee.

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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I Walk the Beach in Winter

By Phil Colarusso

Empty, cold, windy, the beach in the winter. I walk down a deserted shore with the waves rumbling next to me. Little evidence of life except for a stray gull or a few eider ducks diving just beyond the surf zone. The wind whips sand particles stinging as they hit my face. Walking into the wind takes some effort.BeachinWinterpicPhil

Geographically, this is a beach I visit often, but it is a very different beach than the one I walked on in the late fall. Winter storms, wind and waves have continued with their eternal reshaping of the landscape. Large sections of sand dunes have eroded in one of the winter storms. The constant wind redistributes clouds of sand along exposed sections of beach. Sand grains collect in clam shells, behind clumps of dune grass or debris, any place that allows relief from the vigorous wind.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen nature’s reshuffling of this beach dozens and dozens of times. As I stroll along the shore, I contemplate the fate of a grain of sand. How many times does a single grain of sand get moved in its life span? How far does it travel in its lifetime? I envision the grain of sand being blown down the beach by the wind and moving in and out on a wave or with the tide. The one constant for a sand grain is motion. The one constant for most beaches is change. With climate change triggering sea level rise and more intense storms, this current rate of change will also change.

It’s time to turn back and as I retrace my steps from the way I came; the wind is now at my back. With the wind at my back, nature doesn’t seem quite as violent.  The waves coming ashore don’t look as big.  A gull floats effortlessly above me on the wind exerting no effort at all, appearing at peace. The deeper message seems pretty clear, we need to work with nature not against it. Are we as a society, sand grains being blown around haphazardly by the wind or are we the sea gull who can adapt and use that same wind to our advantage? In the distance, three wind turbines are visible on the horizon.

 

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA’s New England office, and is an avid diver

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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South Korea and the Heartland Connected by World Wide Water

By Jeffery RobichaudSouth Korea Meeting photo 1

Here in Kansas, we are the EPA Regional Office that is farthest from an international border. But surprisingly, we still get our own share of out-of-town visitors.

In August 2015, scientists from our Drinking Water Program and Environmental Science and Technology Division sat down with five South Korean representatives from Kunsan National University, the National Institute of Environmental Research, the Korea Environment Corporation, and the country’s Ministry of the Environment. Dr. JeJung Lee, who is our partner in the very cool KCWaterBug, helped arrange the visit and assisted with translations where necessary.

South Korea Meeting Photo 2

What was truly fascinating, yet I suppose not altogether surprising, were the issues we talked about. This group of scientists from across the Pacific wanted to learn more about how our Agency protects and regulates groundwater in the United States. They also met with staff at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the University of Kansas, and the U.S. Geological Survey. As it turns out, many of the issues they grapple with are, in fact, the same ones we deal with here in the Heartland.

We first talked about nitrate pollution. Here in the United States, nitrate is regulated in drinking water at public water systems, with a maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per million, which is rarely exceeded.

South Korea has many more private wells in urban areas, while nearly all individuals in metropolitan settings within the United States get their water from regulated public water systems with protected water sources. We learned that sampling at residential homes is difficult for them to accomplish, because homeowners are afraid of losing the ability to use the water or are fearful that they will be required to pay for treatment.

On the remediation (hazardous waste cleanup) side, our visitors were interested in chlorinated solvents and the concerns and risks associated with the vapor intrusion pathway at sites with volatile organic compounds. A specific area of interest was methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive that used to be prevalent in the United States, and its associated vapor intrusion concerns and risks.

On this day, EPA did most of the talking. It would have been nice to have had the time to hear more about how South Korea regulates groundwater nationally, South Korea Meeting Photo 3especially private water well use and construction standards, as well as their experiences with water treatment processes and techniques for drinking water and wastewater. Unfortunately, they had a busy schedule and were sprinting over to the University of Kansas to meet with professors, before moving on to Tennessee to meet with staff from the U.S. Geological Survey.

We will just have to wait for another visit. As you can see in the photo, even with the language differences, we managed to share some laughs!

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second-generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. Jeff’s journeys across the Pacific have always stopped just halfway across, and he hopes to someday cross the International Dateline and visit friends in the Far East.

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

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Go With the Flow—Green Infrastructure in Your Neighborhood

By Chris Kloss

Ten years ago, we didn’t see much green infrastructure for water resources around our neighborhoods. It was more of a novelty than a focused approach to sustainable development and construction. A few cities started using and experimenting with green infrastructure techniques such as rain gardens, permeable pavement, and bioswales which are landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water. The green was a complement to the gray infrastructure, the established system of underground tunnels and sewers. Together, green and gray infrastructure provided a holistic approach to manage stormwater for cleaner water.

Tools, Strategies and Lessons Learned from EPA Green Infrastructure Assistance Projects booklet coverAs the word spread about the early successes of these communities, a growing cadre of public works pioneers joined the movement to apply its principles and techniques to managing their water resources. EPA joined in their discussions, providing support to these pioneers through our technical assistance program. Today, EPA is releasing a summary report of the results from this program that we hope leads to even greater growth in green infrastructure.

Tools, Strategies and Lessons Learned from EPA Green Infrastructure Assistance Projects 

Many of the green infrastructure thinking and practices we see today are not new. Gardens, rain barrels and permeable pavement were standard practices for harnessing and managing water hundreds of years ago. They were old-time technology that let water do what it naturally does —seep back into the earth where it can flow back naturally to streams and rivers, replenish groundwater, or be absorbed by plants and trees.

Communities are now relearning these techniques, and green infrastructure is working for communities across the urban spectrum, from smaller cities like Clarksville, Georgia to midsized, midwestern cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin and large metropolitan regions like Los Angeles, California.

The summary document outlines how these and other community green infrastructure projects are successful. It also highlights benefits, offering examples for city managers to think creatively about how they can design their communities for better health, abundant water resources and improved quality of life.

We can all be part of better design for our communities. It just takes a different way of looking at things. When I’m out with my kids, I talk about how when it rains the water runs off streets, parking lots and other hard surfaces and flows down the stormwater drains into the sewer systems where it can’t be used for anything else. Now armed with the information, they’re always on the lookout for the missed opportunities in our neighborhood for letting the water go where it wants to, where it can do the most good for the watershed where they live.

I hope this report contributes to a movement where green infrastructure becomes standard practice. Every time we set out to design or build, repair or remodel our water systems let’s remember to think green infrastructure and let water do what it naturally does.

Learn more at www.epa.gov/greeninfrastructure and check out the 2016 Green Infrastructure Webcast Series for in-depth presentations throughout the year.

About the Author: Chris Kloss is Acting Chief of the Municipal Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. The branch oversees the wet-weather permitting programs (stormwater, combined sewer systems, and sanitary sewer systems) and the green infrastructure program. Chris has nearly 20 years of experience in the clean water field including time in the private and nonprofit sectors prior to joining EPA.

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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Protecting Communities through Superfund Enforcement

By Cyndy Mackey

December 2015 marked the 35th Anniversary of the Superfund program, the federal government’s most successful program designed to clean up the nation’s contaminated land and water and respond to environmental emergencies. I oversee EPA’s Superfund enforcement program, which focuses on cleaning up neighborhoods, ensuring that the polluter pays, and protecting human health and the environment.

The past 35 years have brought significant changes to Superfund through congressional amendments, changes to perspective through reauthorization discussions, and interpretations from the judicial system. Not only has the law changed, but technology has, too.

I am proud to have dedicated my career to cleaning up contaminated sites, and my goal in my current role is to support EPA’s work to find responsible parties and make sure that polluters pay for the cost of cleanups instead the American taxpayers.

For every dollar spent by the Superfund enforcement program, private parties commit to spending eight dollars toward cleanup work leading to restoration of land and water, facilitating reuse and revitalization, and protecting communities. Since the program inception, EPA has secured over $35.1 billion in private party commitments and over $6.9 billion to recover past cleanup costs. EPA has been instrumental in helping to get the responsible parties to pay for cleanup of sites across the country. For example:

  • A 2006 enforcement agreement with General Electric resulted in a $2.7 billion cleanup of contaminated sediment and 300,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) being removed from the Hudson River riverbed. The dredging of the Hudson River PCB Superfund Site was completed in October 2015.
  • A 2014 settlement to resolve fraudulent conveyance charges against Anadarko and Kerr-McGee associated with the Tronox bankruptcy means $1.9 billion will go toward cleanup of contaminated Superfund sites across the country.
  • A 2009 agreement required $975 million for the cleanup of contamination at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. This agreement facilitates the cleanup of 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash waste impacting the Emory River and adjacent land.
  • In 2007, EPA collected more than $124 million from Hercules Incorporated to recover costs for the Agency’s cleanup work at the Vertac Chemical and Jackson Landfill Superfund Sites in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

EPA’s Superfund enforcement program is strong and is committed to finding new solutions as we address new sites, industrial processes, and hazardous substances to ensure human health and the environment are protected in communities across the country.

More information about Superfund’s accomplishments over the past 35 years.

About the author: Cyndy Mackey oversee EPA’s Superfund enforcement program, which focuses on cleaning up neighborhoods, ensuring that the polluter pays, and protecting human health and the environment.

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 Greener 2016

By Lina Younes

Happy New Year! As we begin the new year, we’re looking for a fresh start to a healthier and happier life. How about finding ways to embrace a greener lifestyle for 2016?

Personally, I’ve selected some green resolutions that will help me make better environmentally sound choices for my family, my community and the planet. I think they’re easy to follow now and throughout the year. I’m sharing them with you. What do you think?water

Resolution #1: Save energy.

Saving energy at home, at school, or in the office can start with one simple light bulb. I know I often sound like a broken record trying to convince my youngest to turn off the lights in her room when she leaves. This year I want both of us to make that special effort. This simple action can go a long way to save energy.
Also, at home, we’ve made sure that all our major appliances have the Energy Star label.  Are you planning to to replace an old computer or household appliance this year? You can save energy and money, too, if you choose a new appliance with the label.

Resolution #2: Save water.

We definitely cannot live without water. So, why not do our best to use this precious resource as efficiently as possible? Saving water saves energy and money. This year, I’m making a special effort to take shorter showers and turn off the faucet while I brush my teeth. These simple steps can go a long way.

Do you have a leaky faucet or toilet? Did you know that household leaks waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water every year in the U.S. alone? I’ve had problems with leaky toilets at home and learned from the experience! Don’t let a leak break the bank.  Look for the WaterSense label when buying new water efficient toilets and other plumbing fixtures to save valuable water and money every day.

Resolution #3: Use safer chemicals.

We’ve all heard the expression: “cleanliness is next to godliness.” So, why not look for safer cleaning products to protect ourselves, our family and the environment? Did you know that we have a program that helps us do just that? It’s called SaferChoice. Products with the SaferChoice label have met high EPA standards to ensure that they’re greener to better protect people, pets, workers’ health and the environment. Personally, I seek greener chemicals to help protect my family. I’m glad there will be more products available with the SaferChoice label this year.

Resolution #4: Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Make an effort to reduce waste from the outset. Why not use reusable containers at home, at school, and at the office? Reducing disposable packaging and waste saves you money and ultimately protects the environment. Looking for additional tips on how to reduce waste? Here are more suggestions on what you can do every day.

For starters, I’m focusing on waste free lunches. When I prepare lunches for my youngest to take to school or for me to bring to work, I’m avoiding disposable plastic bags. I’m using reusable containers for the food and beverages. Not only am I preventing those bags from ending up in a landfill, but I’m saving money, too.

By the way, don’t forget the other two R’s—reuse and recycle. For additional tips, visit: http://www.epa.gov/recycle.

Resolution #5: Be more active.

While we often include losing weight as a New Year’s resolution, how about aspiring to become more active as the means to a healthier lifestyle? You don’t have to sign up for an expensive gym membership to achieve that goal. It’s much easier and less costly than you think. How about simply walking more often? Take your dog on longer walks. How about visiting your local park?

Personally, I’m taking the stairs more often at work. I also have a new standing desk. So, I’m not as sedentary as in the past. Being more active at work, becoming healthier, and protecting the environment sound like a win-win to me!

So, what green resolutions will you embrace in 2016? We’d love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison in EPA’s Office of Web Communications. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several federal and state government agencies over the years.

 

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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