Archives for category: Disasters

From Living On Earth (portions of radio discussion of the “the health effects of the deepwater disaster”):

GELLERMAN: . . . . It’s been more than six months since BP finally capped its runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. But now come reports of a wave of illnesses and puzzling symptoms from some residents along the Gulf Coast. Their blood contains high levels of chemicals found in oil and the dispersants that were used to clean up the mess.

Many who are suffering say firm answers and adequate treatment are hard to come by, and there’s a growing sense of frustration with government agencies and the medical community. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young has the first part of our special report: “Toxic Tide – Discovering the Health Effects of the Deepwater Disaster”.

[HEARING: OIL SPILL COMMISSIONER DON BOESCH Okay, questions and comments from the floor…]

YOUNG: When the National Oil Spill Commission presented its final report in New Orleans, commissioners expected to get an earful from rig workers and fishermen worried about their jobs. Instead they heard speaker after speaker worried about something else: their health.

SPEAKER 1: I worked 60 days on the frontline for BP out here. I’m sick today, nobody wants to take care of me.

SPEAKER 2: The issue is ongoing; people are getting sick and dying.

SPEAKER 3: I have seen small children with lesions all over their body. We are very, very ill. And there’s a very good chance now that I won’t get to see my grandbabies.

YOUNG: Some had worked cleaning up the oil, others lived in or had visited places where oil washed ashore. All complained of mysterious ailments that arose after the spill.

Robin Young was one of those who spoke out. She manages vacation rental properties in Orange Beach, Alabama, where she has lived for 10 years.

When the spill started, Young helped form a citizen group called Guardians of the Gulf. At first, the group was not focused on health issues. Then, people, including Young, started getting sick.

R YOUNG: Headaches, I would get nauseous – and these are all things that I don’t normally experience at all, I’ve always been very, very, very healthy. Then the coughing – I coughed up so much nasty looking mess.

J YOUNG: Young says symptoms started after she spent a day near the water in June and she still hasn’t fully recovered. She heard from others in her community and across the Gulf coast with similar problems.

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J YOUNG: Young’s group paid for more blood sampling. The Louisiana Environmental Action network asked biochemist and MacArthur grant winner Wilma Subra to analyze the results. The blood samples came from cleanup workers, crabbers, a diver who’d been in oiled water, and at least two children who live on the coast. All had reported recent health problems. Subra compared the levels of volatile organic compounds in those samples to a national database of VOC’s in blood compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics.

SUBRA: They’re as much as 5 to 10 times what you’d find in the normal population. And again, these are chemicals that relate back to chemicals in the BP crude and the dispersants.

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SUBRA: I think it’s demonstrating that the chemicals they are being exposed to are showing up in their blood. We’ve briefed the federal agencies on it, tried to get them interested – they are evaluating the results. And I think there’s a lot of frustration in the community members across the coastal areas. They are really requesting answers.

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YOUNG: Solid answers will take time. There’s little in the scientific literature on long term health effects of oil spills. In March the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences plans to start enrolling Gulf spill cleanup workers in a long-term health study. The principal investigator is Dale Sandler, chief of epidemiology at NIEHS. She hopes to track some 55,000 subjects for at least five years.

SANDLER: This will be by far the largest study of individuals exposed during an oil spill disaster that’s ever been conducted. So we have been moving heaven and earth to make this go quickly.

YOUNG: Sandler’s study has funding, thanks in part to BP. The study is a few months behind its original schedule. But researchers face another hurdle that may prove more difficult. Signing up tens of thousands of participants and getting people to accept results depends on credibility and trust. After the BP spill and Hurricane Katrina, trust is in low supply on the Gulf Coast. Here’s how Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kinnon sums up the attitude.

KINNON: The bottom line is very few people trust governmental agencies. They think there’s this incestuous relationship between BP and the government, and I tend to agree with them.

J YOUNG: And even as Robin Young asks the government to help her community, the plea comes with a note of deep suspicion.

RYOUNG: I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist – that’s what I’m starting to feel like. Because it’s hard to believe that something like this is going on in the United States and no one’s helping.

More . . .

Link to Living on Earth podcast.

Wilma Subra’s analysis of blood samples from sick Gulf Coast residents.

The NIEHS plan for a large-scale, long-term study of cleanup workers.

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The Bhopal disaster or Bhopal gas tragedy was an industrial disaster that took place at a Union Carbide subsidiary pesticide plant in the city of Bhopal, India. On 3 December 1984, the plant released 42 tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, exposing more than 500,000 people to toxic gases. The first official imm…ediate death toll was 2,259. A more probable figure is that 8,000 died within two weeks, and it is estimated that an additional 8,000 have since died from gas-related diseases.

From alliance4justice:

Crude Justice tells the story of damaged lives, but also of the fighting spirit and resilience of people who understand that what’s threatened is not just justice for the victims of the spill, but the integrity of the American judicial system itself. Visit http://crudejustice.org to watch the 18-minute video and for additional information.

From Michigan Messenger:

Nicholas Forte has spent the last year with an array of health issues. Headaches. Migraines. Nausea. Breathing problems so severe they would land him in the hospital.

“We have no idea what it is,” the 22-year-old Battle Creek resident told Michigan Messenger. “Then it escalated to seizures.”

And while the seizures landed him in the hospital — at one point stopping his heart and his breathing — doctors are at a loss to understand why. Tests indicate none of the expected patterns for epilepsy.

Finding out why the formerly healthy young man had suddenly fallen ill drove him and his family to listen to Riki Ott, an environmental toxicologist who has been tracking the health impacts of oil spills on human beings since her home was impacted by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Ott was in Battle Creek Wednesday night at the invitation of local activists.

And when Forte asked Ott about his symptoms, she nodded an affirmative.

“We see that in 16-year olds in the Gulf,” she said. And Forte was not the only person she may have given much needed answers to. Nearly 50 people gathered to talk about headaches, nausea, burning eyes, memory loss and rashes. There were young and old, African-Americans and whites, rural residents and city dwellers, all with one thing in common — they live by the Kalamazoo River and were exposed to last year’s Enbridge Energy Partners Lakehead Pipeline 6B.

For Ott, it was a litany list of symptoms and voices of frustration she has heard from Alaska to South Korea to the Gulf Coast and now in Calhoun county. And Calhoun, she says, represents exposures to both tar sands and lighter oils, each with its own chemical make ups and attendant toxins.

“You’ve got the worst of two worlds. You’re getting a fully double whammy,” she says of the Cold Lake Crude Oil. “Peoples’ health problems (from the Enbridge spill) are identical to the Gulf.”

More.

From :

New Yorkers rally to shut down Indian Point, an old nuclear plant in an active seismic zone that puts 20 million Americans within a 50 mile radius at risk. In the United States, 1 in 3 Americans live within 50 miles of a nuclear plant and are threatened by a nuclear disaster.

From MSNBC.com:

An ExxonMobil pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River near Billings in south-central Montana ruptured and dumped up to 1,000 barrels of oil, fouling the riverbank and forcing water intakes downstream to be closed.

Company spokeswoman Pam Malek said the pipe broke about 11:30 p.m. Friday and leaked for about a half-hour.

The cause of the rupture in the pipe carrying crude oil from Belfry, Mont., to the company’s refinery in Billings wasn’t known. But Duane Winslow, disaster and emergency services coordinator for Yellowstone County, told NBC station KULR8 that erosion from high water this spring likely played a role.

Brent Peters, the fire chief for the city of Laurel about 12 miles east of Billings, said the break in the 12-inch diameter pipe occurred about a mile south of Laurel. Crews shut down the pipeline about half an hour later.

Peters said about 140 people were evacuated starting about 12:15 a.m. Saturday due to concerns about possible explosions and the overpowering fumes. All were allowed to return after instruments showed fumes had decreased. He said more evacuations occurred farther downstream outside his district.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Sen. Max Baucus called for a swift cleanup.

In a statement Saturday, ExxonMobil said it was sending its North American Regional Response Team to the area to help with cleanup work, and that state and federal authorities had been alerted to the spill from the pipe belonging to the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company.

The company “deeply regrets this release and is working hard with local emergency authorities to mitigate the impacts of this release on the surrounding communities and to the environment,” the statement said.

More.

From the Associated Press:

A provocative documentary screened Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival argues that the human and environmental devastation of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been covered up by authorities eager to return to business as usual.

“The Big Fix,” by husband-and-wife American directors Josh and Rebecca Tickell, features interviews with Louisiana fishing families whose livelihoods and health have been hit by the spill, then expands into a sweeping critique of American capitalism.

The title cuts two ways: the movie argues the U.S. political and economic system is rigged, and huge changes are required to correct it.

Josh Tickell, whose last film was another oil-related documentary, “Fuel,” said the current movie argues that “screwing in a light bulb or buying a hybrid car are not going to change the relationship between the government, the energy industry and the financial sector.”

“It’s like playing cards, and the house has the deck stacked against you,” Tickell told The Associated Press.

“The Big Fix” has high-profile support from Tim Robbins and Peter Fonda, executive producers on the movie. Fonda also appears in the film, which is sure to be strongly criticized by the energy industry.

The film disputes industry claims that the millions gallons of oil spilled after the April 22, 2010, explosion on the BP PLC-owned Deepwater Horizon rig have largely been cleaned up or dispersed.

It says a huge undersea slick is poisoning the ocean and that chemical dispersants used to break up the oil are harming the region’s residents, many of whom say they have developed blisters, rashes and respiratory problems.

BP and the U.S. government have said the use of the main chemical, Corexit, was the best option in the circumstances.

BP said Tuesday that it “worked hand-in-hand with and under the direction of the Coast Guard and the EPA (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) on the use of dispersants.”

Made in the polemical documentary style popularized by Michael Moore, “The Big Fix” depicts Louisiana as a petro-state controlled by oil companies, and Washington politicians as in hock to powerful lobbyists.

More.

From CNN:

Some Gulf Coast residents and former clean-up workers are suffering from an array of mysterious illnesses, according to a Louisiana physician who has treated dozens of patients complaining of similar symptoms.

From Greenwire:

One word could describe U.S. EPA’s oversight of BP PLC’s decision to pour 1.84 million gallons of oil-dispersing chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: uncertain.

Responding to growing public unease last year over BP’s strategy of fighting a massive chemical spill with more chemicals, EPA flexed its regulatory muscle. The result was not confidence-inspiring: a shoving match between the world’s largest environmental regulator and one of the world’s largest oil companies that showed how little the regulators understood about oil dispersants.

One year later, scientists say little has changed.

Decisionmaking about the use of dispersants to combat the oil pouring out of the Macondo well 5,000 feet below the Gulf surface were driven more by politics, circumstances of supply and availability, and educated guesswork than by informed science, experts say.

More.

From Living On Earth (portions of Bruce Gellerman’s recollections of his 1996 report on Chernobyl):

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GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. 25 years ago – April 26, 1986, at precisely 1:23 in the morning, Ukraine time – the number four reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded.

The graphite core of the Soviet reactor ignited and fuel rods vaporized, sending a plume of radioactivity high into the atmosphere. For nearly two days, Soviet officials denied anything had happened. Then the radiation was detected in Sweden and Russian TV news had this short announcement:

[SFX – Russian news cast…SPEAKING IN RUSSIAN; Voiceover: “An accident has happened at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. One reactor has been damaged. The government has formed a commission of inquiry.”]

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GELLERMAN: A faded mural on a vacant apartment building welcomes us to Pripyat. The town was once home to 45,000 residents – plant workers and their families. The sign reads: “The Party of Lenin Leads Us to a Communist Victory.” My guide Alexander Shevchenko deadpans an old party slogan: the people of Pripyat really did invite the friendly Atom into their homes. He laughs alone in the silence.

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GELLERMAN: But for our Geiger counter, the apartments are ghostly quiet. Plant officials delayed the evacuation of Pripyat for a day and a half. By then, Alexander says, the clouds of radioactive iodine had delivered intense doses to the town’s children.

GELLERMAN: Why did they wait 36 hours before they evacuated?

SHEVCHENKO: They waited for the order from Kremlin. They knew about the danger, but they waited for the instructions. I think it is forever – it shouldn’t be forgotten.

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GELLERMAN: We’re standing at Ground Zero. Today, what remains of the melted number four reactor is entombed in a massive 24-storey sarcophagus. But even 300,000 tons of steel and concrete can’t contain the intense radiation within.

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GELLERMAN: The levels on our Geiger counter double when we pointed at the sarcophagus – it’s the most radioactive building on the planet. The amount of radiation released at Chernobyl was 250 times that of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. After a minute here, Alexander wants to leave this place.

SHEVCHEKOV: We better get to the car.

GELLERMAN: Why’s that?

SHEVCHEKOV: Because it’s rather high. You know, I’ve been inside the sarcophagus four times.

GELLERMAN: What is it like? What does it look like inside?

SHEVCHEKOV: Wrecks. Ruins. Ruins, wrecks, and high levels of radiation. Only two minutes allowed.

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GELLERMAN: The Chernobyl sarcophagus was built in seven months – a Herculean effort by some 850 thousand Soviet soldiers, so-called “liquidators.”

[SHOVELING SOUNDS]

GELLERMAN: Shovelful by shovelful, the liquidators removed the radioactive debris and erected the sarcophagus.

[SPEAKING IN RUSSIAN; Voiceover: “We were like ants. Just as some were finishing their task, others would immediately take their place. And that’s how, together, we were able to fight the radioactivity.”]

Video about Chernobyl’s “Biorobots”

DODD: What they did was heroic, you know, and I shudder at the thought of anybody ever having to work like that again. Many of these people – and you’ve seen them in the videos – went up on the roof of the Turbine Generator Hall and were basically given instructions to run out into the hall to pick up a piece of fuel or radioactive graphite, carry it 30 or 40 meters, and throw it over the wall. Oftentimes, they were limited to 10 or 15 seconds to do that – once they did that, they basically had taken a lifetime of radiation and they went back home.

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GELLERMAN: But here we are – 25 years out from Chernobyl – and many people have forgotten it, and you don’t have enough money to complete your work, at least right now, and yet we’re betting on future, future, future generations to deal with this.

DODD: That’s right. I mean, this is a consequence of Chernobyl, and certainly for the 100-years lifetime of the New Safe Confinement, there’s going to be…it’s going to employ the children and the grandchildren of some of the current workers of the Chernobyl site.

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GELLERMAN: Laurin Dodd is managing director of the new Chernobyl safe confinement structure. He lives just outside the evacuation zone. Author Mary Mycio has been inside the zone more than 25 times. She’s author of the book “Wormwood Forest – A Natural History of Chernobyl.”

MYCIO: The first time I went there, I was absolutely stunned to find out that it was, first of all, not this big giant dead parking lot that I’d imagined – it was really green. And that – when you get out into the wild, it’s actually…there are parts of it that are very, very beautiful.

You have the wetlands and peat lands. In one single day, I saw a herd of red deer, a herd of about 40 boars, four moose, and wolf. In the absence of human activity, it becomes a very inviting environment for wildlife.

GELLERMAN: But it’s radioactive!

MYCIO: Well they can’t tell. Radioactivity’s invisible.

GELLERMAN: But isn’t that the point? You can’t see the radiation, yet there’s been this terrible disaster there. Can’t you tell that radiation has its biological effect?

MYCIO: Well I guess you could if you did large animal studies and had, you know, random samples or comparative studies, but nobody is doing that. And…I mean, yes, you can study mice because all you would theoretically need is a couple of mouse traps and some cheese and you’ll get your sample of mice.

If you want to study, let’s say, moose, you have to do some big game hunting and it takes awhile – it’s not like they show up on command. So nobody has been providing that kind of funding right now.

GELLERMAN: But we had no gross genetic damage that we can see now. No giant insects and birds…

MYCIO: No, no, nothing like that. If there are mutations being born in the wild, they die – they get eaten by scavengers so nobody actually finds them. Nobody has identified any mutations except for these studies done on swallows where they have some…they had pigmentation damage, like albino spots on their faces.

GELLERMAN: What about the forests and the flora, the trees? Have they been affected? Can you see mutations in them?

MYCIO: Well there are places where you can see – it’s called radiomorphism, which is radioactivity affecting the orientation that the plant has and the way that it grows. So in very, very radioactive areas, you will have these kind of stunted pine trees that look more like bushes.

GELLERMAN: So now we have this largely abandoned area – when do you think people will be able to come back?

MYCIO: Oh, it depends. There are parts of the zone where people could actually live now because the lines were drawn in a very, very rough way. Other parts – the parts that are closest to the reactor – as a practical matter, never. They won’t be able to come back. Because plutonium – you have plutonium there and that’s got a half-life of 24,000 years. So unless they figure out a way to clean it up, or…I don’t know if there’s an ‘or’ to that. (Laughs). I can’t see how people could come back there in a safe way.

GELLERMAN: When I was in the zone around Chernobyl 15 years ago, I interviewed an old couple who moved back into the zone, and they’re not alone – there are a bunch of people who have moved back. Have we seen any changes in them – any biological effects?

MYCIO: Well the irony is that a lot of the people who went back – they’re doing better than people of their own age who were evacuated because the impact of radiation takes so many decades to show up that if you’re an older person, you’ll die of something else before the radiation will kill you.

And the people who were evacuated, let’s say, from these beautiful – really truly beautiful, lush wetlands – into, let’s say, the suburbs of Kiev in a high-rise apartment building…that’s a traumatic thing, and a lot of the older people had a very, very difficult time adjusting. While the people who went back – they were sort of in their old houses and, yes, there’s radiation around, but a lot of them prefer to be home. Though I would also caution that a lot of the people who live in the zone aren’t there because they have happy stories to tell.

GELLERMAN: Mary Mycio is author of “Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl.”

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GELLERMAN: One of the, if not the saddest photo I think you’ve taken and the one that kind of has burned an image in my mind, is the one of a farmer and he’s got a tattoo of his wife on his shoulder.

ROTHBART: So his full name is Vassily Olessandrovich. I was walking through the town of Ivankiv and I heard him half-drunk, crying in his front yard, and I peeked over his fence and I thought, ‘he’s never going to let me photograph him.’ But I screwed up my courage to knock on the door and ask, and he let me in and talked to me, and we just talked for a few minutes.

And he has this tattoo of a woman – I asked him about it. And he told me that his wife had died the previous year from cancer – she died of liver cancer after a long illness. And so after she died, he tattooed her picture on his shoulder as a personal memorial. And while I was working on this new exhibit, I had my assistant Kiev do some fact-checking and she found out that Vassily has now also died. He died last year of stomach cancer, and he was 57.

GELLERMAN: You photographed a Chernobyl engineer who had worked at the plant for 24 years – I’m looking at the picture of Viktor.

ROTHBART: Yeah, Viktor Gaidak was an engineer at the plant and he continued to work for almost a decade after the 1986 accident. And then in 2004, he had colon cancer and had surgery. And one thing he told me…he told me that when he was sick with cancer, he said, ‘we sold our car to pay for the surgery,’ he said, ‘we sold our TV, our refrigerator, jewelry, everything we could.’ And then he pointed to his wife Lydia next to him and said, ‘well now my wife Lydia has cancer and there’s nothing left for us to sell.’

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More.

Links

From Greenpeace:

25 years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, residents of the area are still exposed to the radiation.

From the Associated Press:

With everything Big Oil and the government have learned in the year since the Gulf of Mexico disaster, could it happen again? Absolutely, according to an Associated Press examination of the industry and interviews with experts on the perils of deep-sea drilling.

The government has given the OK for oil exploration in treacherously deep waters to resume, saying it is confident such drilling can be done safely. The industry has given similar assurances. But there are still serious questions in some quarters about whether the lessons of the BP oil spill have been applied.

The industry “is ill-prepared at the least,” said Charles Perrow, a Yale University professor specializing in accidents involving high-risk technologies. “I have seen no evidence that they have marshaled containment efforts that are sufficient to deal with another major spill. I don’t think they have found ways to change the corporate culture sufficiently to prevent future accidents.”

He added: “There are so many opportunities for things to go wrong that major spills are unavoidable.”

The worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history began with an explosion April 20, 2010, that killed 11 workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig. More than 200 million gallons of crude spewed from the well a mile beneath the sea.

Since then, new drilling rules have been imposed, a high-tech system for capping a blown-out well and containing the oil has been built, and regulators have taken steps to ramp up oversight of the industry.

But deep-sea drilling remains highly risky. The effectiveness of the much-touted containment system is being questioned because it hasn’t been tested on the sea floor. A design flaw in the blowout preventers widely used across the industry has been identified but not corrected. And regulators are allowing companies to obtain drilling permits before approving their updated oil-spill response plans.

More.

From NatureNews:

As the immediate threat from Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged nuclear reactors recedes, engineers and scientists are facing up to a clean-up process that could last for many decades, or even a century.

Experts on previous nuclear accidents say that the sheer quantity of nuclear material that needs to be removed from the site, together with the extent of the damage, makes Fukushima a unique challenge. The plant’s damaged reactors are home to just under 1,000 tonnes of nuclear fuel and thousands of tonnes of radioactive water (see graphic).

Last week, the Toshiba Corporation floated a rough proposal to clean up the site in a decade. But veterans of clean-up operations at sites such as Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania say that it will probably take much longer. The removal of the radioactive material will require a carefully planned and technologically sophisticated programme, made all the more challenging by the devastation left after partial core meltdowns and explosions.

No clean-up can begin until the reactors are stabilized. Radiation around the plant is beginning to wane, but the threat of further releases has not yet passed. On 7 and 11 April, severe aftershocks struck nearby, raising fears that the three crippled reactors could be damaged further. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which manages the plant, says that no additional damage has been detected.

More.

From Videoproject:

A compelling new documentary exploring the noticeably under-reported issue of the environmental impacts of war. Confronts the immensely broad ecological ramifications of everything from technological development and natural resource exhaustion to weapons testing and modern warfare itself. Falling water tables, shrinking forest cover, declining species diversity – all presage ecosystems in distress. These trends are now widely acknowledged as emanating from forces of humanitys own making: massive population increases, unsustainable demands on natural resources, species loss, and ruinous environmental practices. Ironically however, war, that most destructive of human behaviors, is commonly bypassed.

In all its stages, from the production of weapons through combat to cleanup and restoration, war is comprised of elements that pollute land, air, and water, destroy biodiversity and entire ecosystems, and drain our limited natural resources. Yet the environmental damage occasioned even by preparation for war, not to mention war itself, is routinely underestimated, underreported, and even ignored. This outstanding, timely, new film explores the crucial need for public scrutiny of the ecological impact of war and reminds us of the importance of accountability and sustainability not in spite of global conflict, but because of it.

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