What you can do

The Real Value of a Penny

by Pamela Lazos

The mighty penny.

The mighty penny.

When I was a kid we used to recite the rhyme “see a penny, pick it up, then all day you’ll have good luck.” There were certain rules, though. The luck was only for the finder if it was heads up. Tails up and you had to give it away immediately or risk bad luck. Apparently, these superstitions morph over time: when my mom was a kid, the penny was only lucky if you put it in your shoe.

But even in 2014, a penny can go a long way, as I learned on a recent tour of Pennsylvania American Water’s Coatesville, Pennsylvania, treatment plant. Customers of this water system pay just a penny for a gallon of water. By comparison, if you purchase a 24 ounce bottle of water at your local convenience store, a conservative estimate says you’d pay about $1.29. Pennsylvania American Water sells 128 ounces of water for one cent. If they charged the same amount as your local convenience store, that gallon of water would cost their customers $9.50, a hefty price tag in any market.

The staff at this treatment plant, as in most water treatment plants across the country, is very knowledgeable and takes pride in their work. The plant itself is state of the art. Aging equipment has been replaced, and new chemical feed systems have been installed. A centralized data-monitoring system keeps track of plant operations, and an electronic read-out in the lab area displays the intake and outflow, constantly monitoring for compliance with drinking water standards.

And you don’t have to leave your house to get a tour of a drinking water treatment plant. You can go on EPA’s Virtual Water Treatment Plant tour any time! This interactive video guides you through the treatment process from source to tap.

As we come up on the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the tour was a great reminder of how exceptionally important tap water, and the water industry professionals that produce it are to our health and our communities.

 

About the author: Pam Lazos is an attorney in the Office of Regional Counsel in EPA Region 3, and focuses on water law. When not in the office, she keeps bees, writes books, and volunteers in her community on various projects that benefit women and children.

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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Recreating Pennsylvania’s Past Along the Lehigh River

Whether you prefer biking or kayaking, there are lots of great places for recreation on mid-Atlantic waterways.

Whether you prefer biking or kayaking, there are lots of great places for recreation on mid-Atlantic waterways.

by Virginia Thompson

On a beautiful mid-July day, my husband and I biked the 25-mile Lehigh Gorge Trail along the Lehigh River in the Lehigh Gorge State Park. Donning our helmets and supplied with, food and drinking water, we started at White Haven and traveled downstream through the Pocono Mountains to Jim Thorpe, PA – following the same ground as the “Iron Horse” that pulled logs and coal for fueling America’s industrial growth.

Along the way, we saw remnants of the canals and locks dating back to the nineteenth century that helped move goods to large urban areas, such as Philadelphia. While the area was mostly known for lumbering and coal, it was also widely recognized for its scenic beauty. Wildlife was so abundant in this area that John Audubon visited Jim Thorpe in 1829 to sketch.

Biking along, I imagined what scenery folks riding the rails might have seen in those days. Just then, I saw several railroad tracks tucked between a wall of rock of Mount Pisgah and the river. Unbeknown to me, one of the tracks was still active and I was startled by a train coming around the bend, demonstrating the power of “rails with trails.”

Though over-logging and catastrophic fires have reduced many of the communities that relied on lumber and shipping to distant memories, the beauty, history and recreational opportunities offered by some of these towns have granted them a kind of twenty-first century rebirth.

For example, the economy of Jim Thorpe, formerly Mauch Chunk (“sleeping bear” to the Leni Lenape Indians, who resided there), is now based largely on its water-oriented recreational resources. In addition to bicycling like we did, white-water rafting down the Lehigh River is also a popular option.

But, while we’ve seen significant improvement in the quality of our rivers and streams in the four-plus decades since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, many of our waterways remain impaired by pollution. Whether you are white-water rafting, kayaking, or enjoying our rivers and streams in other ways, there are resources to help you find out about water quality in the area you plan to visit.

You can check the lists of impaired waters prepared by your state, or put technology to use by downloading apps that tell you what, if any impairments, impact a particular body of water.

Do you check on water quality before you head out for water-related recreation? Let us know what tools you find most useful!

 

About the author: Virginia Thompson hails from northeastern Pennsylvania and is the EPA Region 3 Coordinator for the Exchange Network, a partnership of federal and state governments providing improved access to environmental data to make better and more timely decisions.

 

 

 

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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Promoting Environmental Stewardship Among Young People: A 2009 PEYA Winner’s Story

By Apoorva Rangan

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has evolved into a problem on a scale that no nation can afford to fight alone. There are over 190 countries. Their boundaries may be fixed, but their people breathe the same air. No matter which country contributes the most or the least to the carbon dioxide burden, all nations suffer together.

During a time when there are major differences between developed and developing nations as how to mitigate climate change, my brother and I launched Project Jatropha, an international collaboration aimed towards alleviating rural poverty and environmental destruction by promoting the biofuel shrub Jatropha curcas.

Project Jatropha provides poor farmers in southern India with enhanced technical assistance in the utility and productivity of biofuels in ways that are environmentally sustainable and economically rewarding. Additionally, this project provides a successful medium in which young people across the globe can collaborate on the implementation of sound initiatives that provide environmental and monetary benefits to impoverished farmers in need.

In 2009, Project Jatropha was awarded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Presidential Environmental Youth Award (PEYA). The PEYA program recognizes youth who promote environmentally-conscious awareness of our nation’s natural resources and encourages community involvement in sustainability efforts.

Each year, one outstanding project from each of EPA’s ten regional offices is selected for national recognition. The new projects awarded continue to be impressive. To be one of the lucky recipients of this award is truly one of my biggest accomplishments as an environmentalist. This honor has given Project Jatropha invaluable visibility and exposure. More importantly, the recognition from this award has helped raise awareness about how community action is key to creating essential strategies the benefit our global community and environment.

Since receiving the award, Project Jatropha has launched a variety of sister projects focused on environmental education, solar energy programs and kitchen gardens. My experience as an environmentalist has shown me that climate change is a problem on the scale that no entity can afford to fight alone. Because collective efforts can make a difference, the environmental education and stewardship of young people is undeniably crucial in the fight to combat global warming.

About the author: Apoorva Rangan is studying Science and Management with a biotechnology sequence at Claremont-McKenna College in California. She is currently interning at the Office of Public Engagement.

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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Staying Sustainable at School

By Maddie Dwyer

As fall approaches, there’s one thing on every college kid’s mind: living on campus. Whether you’re excited or not, dorm life is coming, and it’s time to start getting ready. For me, this means using the things I learned at EPA this summer. Below are some tips for green living, which can help you whether you’re living in a dorm or an apartment, or at home.

  1. Saving Energy: It’s easy to save energy by making a few simple changes to your routine. Remember to always turn off the lights when you leave your room. If you’re lucky enough to have air conditioning, and the luxury of controlling it, make sure it’s not left on if no one’s around.
  2. Conserving Water: There are lots of ways to use water efficiently. Take shorter showers and turn off the water when you are using soap, shaving, or brushing your teeth. Also, fixing leaky faucets is an important way to reduce wasted water.
  3. Reducing Waste: College is a great time to get into sustainable habits. Make a commitment to recycle everything you can, even if it means carrying recyclables until you find a recycling bin. Most campuses offer green dining options, like reusable take out boxes, glasses, and silverware. Take advantage of all the green options your school has to offer!
  4. Getting Involved: Every school is different, and will have different environmental issues to address. For example, as part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, my school is working to construct bioswales to filter run-off before it reaches the bay. Check out EPA’s resources for students looking to be greener at school. Whether you are advocating for safer cleaning products or encouraging energy efficient appliances, your school will be better off with your involvement.
  5. Make a Green Agreement with Your Roommate: Helping one another is a great way to make both you and your roommate more sustainable. Ask if it’s okay to unplug each other’s unused electronics, do laundry together, and figure out a schedule to keep the lights and AC off. I’ve been lucky to have lovely roommates and other amazing friends who are committed to green living, and it has helped me to become more sustainable every day.
Maddie and her roommate Grace

Maddie and her roommate Grace

So when moving back to campus, be sure to keep these tips in mind and have a wonderful, sustainable school year!

About the author: Maddie Dwyer studies environmental science and policy at the University of Maryland. She works as an intern for EPA’s Office of Web Communications.

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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Evaporation: friend or foe?

Vegetation in stormwater swales and other green infrastructure allow natural processes - like evapotranspiration and infiltration – to manage stormwater where it lands.

Vegetation in stormwater swales and other green infrastructure allow natural processes – like evapotranspiration and infiltration – to manage stormwater where it lands.

by Jennie Saxe

I was mulching my garden recently, trying to remember why I had decided to spend my weekend this way, and I thought about how much mulch helps out plants during the hot, often dry summer.

In addition to keeping weeds at bay without chemicals, mulch provides the additional benefits of holding moisture in soil and preventing wide fluctuations in soil temperature. I also recently read about how evaporation can affect water supplies by causing significant losses during storage and transmission of drinking water supplies.

So, does that make evaporation the enemy?

Not necessarily: evaporation can also be a good thing. The process of transpiration by the plants is another key ingredient in and keeping our waters clean. Plants transpire by drawing water up from the soil, through roots, throughout the plant, and eventually releasing water to the air through the leaves.

Using green infrastructure mimics natural processes like infiltration and allows communities to reap the benefits of evapotranspiration, the combination of evaporation and transpiration processes in plants.

Green infrastructure utilizes plants for intercepting, capturing and reusing rainwater. For example, water that lands in the canopy of trees may evaporate before it comes in contact with pollutants which reduces the amount of water and pollution that would otherwise end up in sewers and streams.

Although trees can clearly make a huge impact, all types of vegetation in curb bump-outs, stormwater planters, green roofs, and rain gardens can use evapotranspiration to help keep stormwater and pollutants out of our sewer systems and waterways.

This is important because a heavy storm, especially in an urbanized area, can result in rapid runoff of stormwater from roofs, across sidewalks and streets, and many times into combined sewer systems, where it can contribute to sewer overflows – or directly into waterways where it can load streams with pollutants and sediment.

Rapid stormwater runoff can also lead to flooding and property damage. Green infrastructure techniques are one way to slow the flow of stormwater runoff, keeping huge volumes of stormwater out of sewer systems, reducing flooding, and preventing pollution from entering waterways.

So, while evaporation can be a friend or a foe, understanding when it can be helpful is critical to protecting our water resources.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys tending to a vegetable garden.

 

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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Tools for Recreation on our Rivers

by Virginia Thompson

Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row is a hot spot for recreation in Philadelphia, as well as a National Historic Landmark.

Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row is a hot spot for recreation in Philadelphia, as well as a National Historic Landmark.

Growing up in the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania, I learned the power of rivers:     Hurricane Agnes wiped out parts of my town when the river overflowed its banks.  In calmer times, the river provided a beautiful respite.  Now living in the Delaware River Basin, I enjoy the Schuylkill River, which dissects Philadelphia, for its recreational value throughout the year:  regattas, festivals, walkers, joggers, bikers, and rollerbladers all take advantage of the City’s connection to the river.

My real introduction to the Schuylkill River, however, came three years ago when our high school daughter began rowing crew.  Only then did I learn how river flow, wind, precipitation, and flooding affect such a smooth, beautiful sport.  Days that seemed ideal to spectators often turned out to be challenging conditions for those on the water.

Never was the disconnect between those on land and those rowing on the water more pronounced than at the recent Stotesbury regatta, the world’s largest and oldest high school regatta, held annually on the Schuylkill River.  The first day of the regatta was rainy with torrents of water backing up storm drains, but the rain’s impacts to the rowers were fairly minimal most of the day with warm air, negligible wind, and calm water.

By late in the day, the sky cleared, winds picked up and the rain moved out.  Anticipating improved rowing weather, we were surprised by the cancellation of the day’s remaining races due to “deteriorating river conditions.”  By the next morning, conditions were much worse:  near-flood stage water chocolate brown in color, with the rushing current carrying huge logs and other visible and hidden debris that could pose serious problems.  Surprisingly, the placid, cool, sunny morning was unfit for rowing.  By afternoon, the debris had mostly cleared and rowing resumed.  For the City Championships the next day, the water was significantly lower, little debris was visible, and the water was calmer.  The disparity between the weather and the river conditions was so pronounced because it took time for the upstream floodwaters and debris to flow down the Schuylkill to Philadelphia.

Knowing the current conditions of the river is important for all recreational users.  Fortunately, the Philadelphia Water Department hosts a website service, Philly River Cast, which provides a recreation-focused forecast of water quality in the Schuylkill River.  The River Cast predicts levels of pathogens likely to be in the water carried from upstream based on precipitation, and provides a simple green-yellow-red indication of the river’s suitability for recreation.

While we can’t control the weather, at least we have a tool to help us be prepared for the conditions and able to make smart decisions.

 

About the author:  Virginia Thompson is currently the Coordinator of the Exchange Network, a partnership of federal and state governments providing improved access to environmental data to make better and more timely decisions.  She enjoys swimming, gardening, and bicycling on rail-trails.

 

 

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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One Man’s Trash…

Trash often ends up in our waterways, as it does in this location at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, PA.

Trash often ends up in our waterways, as it does in this location at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, PA.

by Sherilyn Morgan

One man’s trash is not necessarily another man’s treasure, especially when it ends up on your lawn, in a neighboring stream or ultimately in our rivers and oceans. 

I was taking a walk in my neighborhood when I noticed plastic bags dancing with the wind, a confetti of cigarette butts and a mosaic of plastic bottles on the sidewalk.   I have certainly seen trash in other neighborhoods, but usually not mine, and usually not this much.  Although it seems almost normal to see trash in some areas, these issues can affect any community because trash travels.  Trash is a local problem that transitions into a global issue.

Single-use items, like plastic bottles, straws, cans and food wrappers, are all on the list of top ten items found as trash. Consider bottled water: it’s convenient, but the bottles and caps often end up as trash. Although not in the “trash top ten”, balloons, which often wind up as trash that ends up in storm drains and nearby creeks, and on our coastlines,  can have detrimental impacts on marine life. Think about when a balloon is released at a party…where does it go? If it deflates and lands where it was released, maybe someone would pick it up and dispose of it properly. But because trash does tend to travel, that deflated balloon may be destined for a waterway where turtles and other aquatic animals can confuse it with food.

With simple, proactive practices, you can keep your neighborhood clean and eliminate single-use plastic products that show up as pollution in aquatic habitats. For example, wouldn’t it be better to have a reusable bottle that you pay for once and simply refill?  I regularly carry a refillable bottle and carry reusable bags wherever I go.  I did not always do this because it certainly takes practice, but now I feel personally responsible with a sense of pride when I say “no” to plastic. And you can do the same! Since most trash in our waterways actually begins on land, we have the power to prevent it and control the impacts.

Though there are many opportunities to support local volunteer cleanups, the most effective option is prevention.  Remember to dispose of trash properly. Ditch those plastic bags at local stores with plastic collection bins and start using sturdy, reusable bags and recycled and recyclable plastic bottles.  EPA’s Trash Free Waters website is a one-stop shop on how to prevent marine pollution. The Marine Debris Prevention Toolkit has outreach materials that you can use to help curb pollution in your neighborhood. Tell us in the comments about ways you have reduced trash, and helped prevent water pollution, in your community.

About the author: Sherilyn Morgan is an Environmental Scientist with EPA’s Oceans and Dredge Disposal Program that focuses on the protection of coastal and ocean environments including the elimination of trash from waterways.  She enjoys gardening and participating in restoration opportunities that include the care and maintenance of native plants.

 

 

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

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Take Action for Wetlands

by Stephanie Leach

Citizen science projects enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research.

Citizen science projects enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research.

 

This May is the 24thAmerican Wetlands Month, a time for us to appreciate the beautiful diversity of our wetlands as well as Americans’ long and evolving history with them. While we have not always recognized wetlands as ecologically valuable places, we are now fortunate to have a large body of cultural and scientific knowledge, as well as technologies that allow us to access this voluminous information, to guide us in the exploration of our aquatic resources and even allow us to aid in their protection.

You can find many opportunities to advocate for wetlands in your area, including volunteering with community groups to restore or monitor wetlands or even participating in what are known as citizen science projects. Citizen science is when individuals without professional expertise assist in the collection of data. Participation in a citizen science project can mean surveying a specific location over a certain time period, volunteering to collect samples from designated streams, or even simply making note of an observed species. Increasingly, citizen science is taking the form of crowdsourcing over the internet, whereby ordinary people submit their observations to organizations in order to create a large-scale representation of the biodiversity present across time and space.

Some examples of citizen science projects that enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research include: Frogwatch USA, Project Feeder Watch (to report overwintering birds), The Orianne Society (salamanders), Bandedbirds.org (banded shore birds) and other location-specific projects dedicated to rare or invasive plants. What’s more, several of these projects have smartphone apps which users can consult for more information or even use to submit their observations.

American Wetlands Month offers us an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and take action to protect our aquatic resources as we move forward. For more information, visit EPA’s American Wetlands Month website. What groups or projects are you involved with that help you learn about and protect wetlands in your area?

About the Author:  Stephanie Leach works in EPA Region 3’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division as an intern from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and learning as much as she can about the natural world and how to protect it.

 

 

 

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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May is the time for Sprinkler Spruce–Up!

Sprinkler Spruce-up

By Kim Scharl

As we approach summer, some of us start to think about watering our lawns and gardens to keep them looking their best.  Do you get tired of dragging out the hose every day or letting your sprinkler cool off the sidewalk? These tips will help you use water more wisely!

Residential outdoor water use in the United States accounts for more than nine billion gallons of water each day, mainly for landscape irrigation.  When it comes to making certain that your home’s irrigation system is in good working order, a little maintenance goes a long way.

You can spruce up your irrigation system by remembering four simple steps—inspect, connect, direct, and select:

Inspect. Check your system for clogged, broken or missing sprinkler heads. If you are not the do–it–yourself type, go with a pro—look for an irrigation professional certified through a WaterSense-labeled program.

Connect. Examine points where the sprinkler heads connect to pipes or hoses. If water pools in your yard or you have large wet areas, you could have a leak in your system. Did you know that a leak as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen (about 1/32 of an inch) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month?

Direct. Are you watering the driveway, house, or sidewalk instead of your yard? Redirect sprinklers to apply water only to the grassy or planted areas.

Select. An improperly scheduled irrigation controller can waste water and money. Update your system’s watering schedule with the seasons, or select a WaterSense-labeled controller to take the guesswork out of scheduling.

During the month of May, WaterSense wants you to remember to “Spruce up your Sprinkler” by replacing a standard clock timer with a WaterSense-labeled irrigation controller that can save an average home nearly 8,800 gallons of water annually.

If every home in the United States with an automatic sprinkler system installed and properly operated a WaterSense-labeled controller, we could save $435 million in water costs and 120 billion gallons of water across the country annually by not overwatering lawns and landscapes! For more, check out information from EPA on WaterSense-labeled irrigation systems and these simple water saving tips.

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl joined EPA in 2010, after moving to Pennsylvania from Mississippi. She is a financial analyst and project officer in the Office of Infrastructure and Assistance, and is the Regional Liaison for the WaterSense Program. Kim enjoys bowling and spending time with her family.

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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