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India’s most Secret Incinerator is here

18-July-2011

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ws180711India.asp#

The Madhya Pradesh high court has ordered that the DRDE dispose off toxic waste from union carbide’s bhopal plant. Why the secrecy?

INDIA MAY have sent rockets into space. But as a nation, we are not yet potty trained. With more than six decades of industrialisation behind us, one would think that India would have a policy to deal with the remediation and restoration of pollution hotspots. But no. Our continued bungling of the Union Carbide contamination in Bhopal is a sorry case in point. In the lead up to the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas leak, the Madhya Pradesh government wanted to convey to people that the issue of contamination had been resolved, and that time was such a great healer that even without doing anything, the highly contaminated Bhopal factory site had magically cleaned itself up. How did the government do that? By getting scientists to say that the site is safe and that whatever was toxic is no longer toxic.

One prominent scientist recruited for this job was R Vijayaraghavan, Director of the Defence Research Development Establishment (DRDE), a supposedly high-tech laboratory of the Ministry of Defence. For an R&D agency with such pretences, the director’s statement on the Bhopal toxic waste was frighteningly simplistic. “For a 70kg man, there will not be any death even if he takes 200gm (of toxic wastes stored inside Carbide’s premises) by oral route,” he wrote in an official opinion given to Madhya Pradesh. His conclusion was worse. The government’s plans to open the factory site for public visits, he wrote, would not cause ‘any untoward, adverse or toxic effect to the public’.

Going by his suggestion, recruiting 17.5 lakh men weighing above 70 kg to consume about 200 grams of Carbide wastes each should take care of the 350 tons of toxic wastes without troubling anybody.

Bhopal activists countered this scientific skullduggery in their own comical, cynical way. Exactly a week before the 25th anniversary, they served up a banquet with a difference. On the menu was an assortment of ‘toxic delicacies’ – Semi-processed Pesticide on Watercress; Naphthol Tar Fondue; Sevin Tar Souffle; Reactor Residue Quiche; and Lime Sludge Mousse. All served with a complimentary bottle of B’eau Pal water. “Your appetite will contribute to a cleaner Bhopal,” invitees were told. Vijayaraghavan was named as the chef of the faux banquet.

Bhopalis are totally unimpressed by Vijayaraghavan’s brand of ‘science’. But the Madhya Pradesh High Court has unquestioningly reposed its faith in the Defence Laboratory. The court is hearing a case filed in 2004 seeking directions to make Dow Chemical clean up and compensate the affected people. A number of Bhopal organisations have impleaded in the matter. Time and again, they have underlined that any remediation effort must be informed by science, that the science must be subject to public scrutiny, and that the polluter must pay. On July 12, the court ordered that about 350 tons of toxic and obsolete pesticides currently stored in Union Carbide’s factory should be disposed of at the Defence Research Development Organisation’s (DRDO) facility located in the vicinity of Nagpur.

The said DRDO facility is truly off the radar. Jairam Ramesh is credited with having identified this hidden facility. If national security hinges on keeping the plant’s location secret, then our security is soon to be breached. The plant’s location will not remain secret for long as nosy journalists and apprehensive residents from Nagpur would make a beeline for it. Already, there are murmurs that DRDO’s mysterious operation is in Buti Bori, an industrial area 35 km from Nagpur.This is the third attempt to burn the wastes. The first two were abandoned after residents living near those facilities highlighted the inadequacy of the incinerators in handling Carbide’s wastes. The incinerator in Ankleshwar, Gujarat, caught fire because it had stored several hundred tons of toxic wastes in violation of its own hazardous waste authorisation. The explosion happened in April 2008 when Bhopalis were sitting on dharna in Jantar Mantar demanding, among other things, that the Bhopal wastes should be disposed of without subjecting other communities to another slow- motion Bhopal.

This is the third attempt to burn the wastes. The first two were abandoned after residents living near those facilities highlighted the inadequacy of the incinerators in handling Carbide’s wastes. The incinerator in Ankleshwar, Gujarat, caught fire because it had stored several hundred tons of toxic wastes in violation of its own hazardous waste authorisation. The explosion happened in April 2008 when Bhopalis were sitting on dharna in Jantar Mantar demanding, among other things, that the Bhopal wastes should be disposed of without subjecting other communities to another slow- motion Bhopal.

The second facility was in Pithampur, near Indore. This facility was constructed cheek-by-jowl with a residential area, in violation of setback guidelines. Incidentally, locating the Union Carbide facility in a densely populated part of town was an important contributor to the Bhopal disaster’s massive death and injury toll. The Pithampur facility too had an explosion nearly killing a worker just days before Jairam Ramesh was to visit it.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order is problematic, even illegal, on many counts. Time and again, bureaucrats, politicians and now the court have used the fact that these wastes have lain here so long as a justification for getting rid of it quickly, by any means and for bypassing due process. The very least that needs to happen if the Bhopal wastes are destined to a facility is to verify if that facility has the wherewithal to receive the wastes. Other questions have to be answered too. Is the facility licensed? Does the facility have a good track record? Incineration is not just about burning; does the facility have a suitable mechanism to dispose the highly toxic ash and residue generated by burning the wastes? Are the people living near the facility comfortable with the facility’s operations? Was the facility designed to receive and dispose the kinds of wastes currently stored in Bhopal? Are workers and people in the vicinity informed enough to react suitably in the event of an emergency?

These are not irrelevant questions. Had they been raised before Bhopal, the world’s worst industrial disaster may never have happened. But we are a nation addicted to political and social expediency. Forget what is right, whatever can be pushed through must. The court has directed DRDE director to instruct DRDO to make arrangements to receive, store and dispose the toxic wastes as and when it is brought from Bhopal starting right away. The state government is directed to start packing and transporting the wastes within 10 days.

I made some phone calls, nothing that state pollution control boards or the environment ministry could not have done. It turns out that the DRDO facility is truly secret. People don’t even know where it is. The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board agrees that there is a facility somewhere near Nagpur,and that it does secret things. One person told me an incinerator was commissioned at the facility about 18 months ago to destroy some super-toxic military stuff, something to do with the Brahmos missile project. The regional officer of Maharashtra Pollution Control Board was categorical: “If you’re releasing pollutants to air or water, you have to get our consent. Defence establishments have no exemption as far as I know. The ammunition factory in Nagpur has our license.”

THE DRDO facility has never been inspected by the regulatory body. Till date, nobody has approached the Pollution Control Board seeking its approval. The facility does not have a license to operate. It does not have a hazardous waste authorisation. It has not submitted the mandatory emergency response plan to the district administration. The DRDO has said that its responsibility begins only after it receives the wastes from Madhya Pradesh. But as things stand, if the operator of the DRDO facility were to comply with the Madhya Pradesh High Court order, he or she could land up in jail for up to two years for violating environmental laws and handling hazardous wastes without authorisation. Licensing formalities aside, experts are skeptical whether the incinerator would actually be able to deal with the Bhopal wastes.

The secret DRDO facility is truly off the radar. But its location will not remain secret for long as nosy journalists and apprehensive residents from Nagpur make a beeline for it. There are murmurs already that it is in Buti Bori, 35 km from Nagpur

Thermax is the largest incinerator manufacturer in the country. It has supplied incinerators to the DRDO. Its CEO Unnikrishnan was categorical when asked if Indian incinerators can handle the Bhopal wastes. In a May 2010 letter that has been submitted to the high court, Unnikrishnan said: “To the best of our knowledge, there aren’t any incinerators currently in operation within our country that has the level of sophistication and safety systems in-built to tackle the waste under consideration.” A consultant advising GTZ, the German bilateral technical extension agency, concurs. This is particularly significant because the Germans are known to have perfected the art of destruction by burning.

The Bhopal wastes contain high levels of chlorinated chemicals and heavy metals. Burning chlorinated material in the presence of heavy metals is the best recipe for generating dioxins, a category of carcinogenic, immune system-busting chemicals that are the most toxic substances known to science. The opaque manner in which authorities have attempted to deal with the Bhopal wastes does not bode well for the evolution of a robust policy to deal with contaminated sites. Survivors’ groups say they were taken by surprise by the order as they were never consulted or heard on the matter. An October 2003 order of the Supreme Court is unequivocal in its emphasis on community participation in any matter relating to hazardous wastes. Clearly, the decision to send the Bhopal wastes to a secret DRDO facility in a clandestine manner is not informed by this apex court decision.

It is not just the Bhopal groups that were in the dark. Eminent scientist and Padma Bhushan awardee PM Bhargava is part of a technical committee appointed by the court to advice on disposal plans for the Bhopal wastes. He too had no idea about the current proposal until I spoke with him. “It is pertinent to know what the design specifications of the DRDO incinerator are, and whether it is designed to handle such wastes,” he says.

Bhopal survivors may have been denied an opportunity to comment on the proposal. But, the court records in its order its invitation to Dow Chemical to suggest a cheaper option. The consideration shown to Dow’s financial well-being is curious given that the American company has consistently refused to submit to the writ of Indian courts.

All this makes one wonder whether the rule of law and science-based decision-making are mere rhetoric. India is a country strewn with toxic hotspots. In Kodaikanal, a toxic mercury hotspot caused by Unilever’s thermometer factory has clocked 10 years without clean-up. In Mettur, farmers have registered complaints of groundwater and soil contamination by Chemplast’s chemical factories since the late 1960s. In Roro, Jharkhand, an abandoned hill of asbestos wastes, which has poisoned the air for decades, continues to spew lung-crippling fibres of death. Entire stretches of industrial areas, in Vapi, Ankleshwar, Vellore, Patancheru, Sukhinda valley are industrial disaster zones begging for remediation. In all these cases, agencies of the state are yet to decide whether the environment is contaminated, whether the contamination is caused by the company and whether the company is liable to repair the damages and compensate farmers.

One would imagine that the government and the courts would use the perverse opportunity provided by the Bhopal disaster to better advantage – to develop mechanisms to ensure that factories don’t pollute, and to implement a rigid polluter pays regime to enforce clean-up to world standards in a transparent manner, and to deter polluters.

But left to the agencies of the state, no such policy will emerge. After every disaster like Bhopal, or every time that we discover pollution as with Unilever’s mercury pollution in Kodaikanal, citizens will have to wage a battle against the combined might of the polluter and regulator over decades to get a place cleaned up. Forget rehabilitation of the Bhopal site. Perhaps, it is time we focused on cleaning up the state.

Nityanand Jayaraman is a Volunteer Campaign for Justice, Bhopal.

 

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Open letter to the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board

To the Chairman, MP Pollution Control Board, Paryavaran Parisar, E-5, Arera Colony, Bhopal 462 016

    Sub: Personal and Organizational Responsibility for Toxic Injury to six workers at the MP Waste Management Project, Pithampur, Dhar on June 25, 2010.

Sir,

We survivors of the December 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal and people exposed to ground water contaminated by Union Carbide’s hazardous wastes are writing to you to come clean on your personal and organizational responsibility for the toxic exposure and injury of six contract workers on June 25, 2010 at the MP Waste Management Project at Pithampur, Dhar run by Ramky Enviro Engineers Limited.

As you should know these workers were injured during the trial run of the Incinerator which was approved by your organization despite several blatant and ongoing violations.

There is documentary evidence to substantiate that you and your organization know full well that:

1. The village Tarpura is located within 500 meters of the Waste Management Project facility and the proposed Incinerator. (mentioned in Inspection Report of March 2007 and Status Report of January 2008)

2.The facility has collected and stored incinerable waste in an unauthorized manner.( mentioned in Inspection Report of February 2009, Inspection Report of July 2009, Status Report of January 2008, Status Report of February 2009 and Compliance Report of July 2008)

3.The facility has built landfills that are not as per approved design of CPCB. mentioned in Inspection Report of July 2009, Status Report of January 2008, and Compliance Report of July 2008)

4. Leachate from land fills is being used to quench the incinerator, causing toxic emission. This is being done by REEL instead of installing a Multi Effect Evaporator as per the CPCB guidelines.

5.There is no system of mechanical stabilization at Ramky’s facility that was directed on September 03, 2008 following joint inspection by MPPCB and CPCB.

Further during the transport of 40 MT of Union Carbide’s hazardous waste in June 2008 there were several violations as under:

6.One of the three trucks (Vehicle Regn No. HR 55A 1851) used for transporting the hazardous waste did not have the requisite Insurance, the national permit papers or the Pollution Under Control Certificate.

7.Another truck (Vehicle Regn No. HR 55A 7853) used for transporting the hazardous waste did not have the Pollution Under Control Certificate.

8.There was no off-site or on-site disaster management plan.

9.Local residents in Bhopal and Pithampur had no knowledge about the proposed transportation of hazardous waste which was carried out in darkness at about 2 AM in Bhopal.

10. The drivers of the trucks did not have fitness certificates and none of them were educated till 10th class.

Despite the knowledge of the above violations of the Hazardous Waste Management Rules, 1989 your organization gave Consent for Operation on March 18, 2010 and approved the trial runs at this incinerator that led to toxic exposure and injury to six workers.

In June 2005 because of your organization faulty regulation, workers and hundreds of neighbourhood residents were exposed to toxic pesticide dust during a Ramky operation at the Bhopal Union Carbide factory.

You owe an immediate explanation for your criminal negligence towards the health and safety of workers and residents and complicity with Ramky group of companies.

Awaiting your early reply.

Safreen Khan
Children Against Dow-Carbide
Mob. 9826994797

Balkrishna Namdeo
Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha
Mob. 9826345423

Abdul Jabbar
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan
Mob. 9406511720

Syed M Irfan
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha
Mob. 9329026319

Rashida Bee, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh
Mob. 9425688215

Rachna Dhingra, Satinath Sarangi
Bhopal Group for Information and Action
Mob. 9826167369

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Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat government machinery brokered a deal to transport waste from the old Union Carbide factory to Ankleshwar for incineration

Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti

c/o 37 Patrakar Colony, Tandalja,
Vadodara 390 020, Phone: 0265-2320399

Email: rt_manav@sancharnet.in

29 April 2007 For Immediate Release

Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat government machinery brokered a deal to transport waste from the old Union Carbide factory to Ankleshwar for incineration

Is ÒNirmalÓ Gujarat meant to be the National Hazardous Waste Disposal Capital of the country?

Dioxins (the most toxic chemical known to humankind), which were released during the original gas leak in Bhopal, will be released in Ankleshwar during incineration

Gujarat: Investment zone or dumping ground?

 Gujarat
prides itself as the most advanced and industrialised state in the country and
has been publicly welcoming investment and tourists. But privately it has been
courting the arrival of hundreds of tons of hazardous waste from the infamous
and lethal Union Carbide factory in Bhopal.  We would like to inform 100 crore Indians and specifically 5
crore Gujaratis that these claims of being a leader in economic growth and
opportunity ring hollow because in reality the Government of Gujarat is engaged
in making sly deals to emerge as a sub-contactor to Union Carbide by disposing
of its waste. The dark side of this so-called prosperity has been revealed
through documents exchanged between the Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat
governments.  The State is
withdrawing from its constitutional duty of education, health, and social
security of the people, but simultaneously voluntarily assumes the polluterÕs
duty by requesting the shift of this waste to Gujarat for incineration ∆ which
is outside of the purview of its constitutional powers and responsibilities.

Madhya
Pradesh Government: Passive accomplice

 

Twenty-three
years after the largest chemical disaster this planet has faced, Union Carbide
(now Dow Chemicals) still absconds from duty.  Even the technical sub-committee of the task force appointed
by the MP High Court originally recommended that the waste must be made
sea-worthy and be exported back to the responsible party at the cost of the
polluters, and non-compliance should warrant freezing of all Dow Chemical
assets in India. However, the MP government is taking a drastically different
action, and we see that it is also trying to hide the original recommendations
and other such facts.  Whereas the
Indian Government should have held this company responsible and prosecuted the
guilty, it has instead chosen to accommodate the dereliction of corporate duty
by cleaning up Union CarbideÕs mess at the cost of the Indian taxpayers.

 

346
MT : The tip of the iceberg

 

The
GPCB is making a mockery of the states own ÒNirmal
GujaratÓ campaign.  The total assessment of waste in the
old Union Carbide factory is still unknown to the public and to experts.  Because thousands of tons of hazardous
waste is lying in an unlined area of the company, unfathomable leaching into
the soil and groundwater has been going on for the past 23 years.  The 346 MT of toxic waste that has been
cleared to come to Ankleshwar is a mere drop in the ocean of the waste of the
entire premises is still pending treatment.  The GPCB is now setting a precedent which will easily open
the floodgates for waste from any corner of the world to arrive in
Ankleshwar.  We have no idea of how
much waste might make its way to Gujarat if the GPCB allows this first batch to
be imported to Ankleshwar for incineration. The Bhopalis have been suffering
for the past 23 years from untold health problems and environmental damage; now
it appears that the state Governments of both Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat will
allow the Gujarati public to suffer a similar fate.

 

We
have learned that the composition of the waste is as follows:

 

S. No Description of waste for
incineration
Quantity
[Approx]
1 Sevin & Napthol
residues
Together-95MT
2 Reactor residue 30MT
3 Semi processed pesticides 56MT
4 Excavated waste 165MT
  Total 346 MT

 

In
2005, the MPPCB was granted one time permission for the transportation and
disposal for 67 MT of waste. However, by 2006, B K Singh, Member Secretary of
the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board in Letter No 594, MPPCB/BHOPAL,
Dated  8/10/06, requested
permission from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board to dispose of 346 MT of
toxic waste, which is over 5 times the original quantity (see table above for
full details). Mr. J. K. Vyas (Director, Gujarat Forest and Environment
Department) finally granted permission for the same on 4 January 2007. Despite
the fact that it is the GPCBÕs own admission Ankleshwar is a toxic hotspot, the
state machinery is inviting even more hazardous waste to the city.

 

Throwing
the wisdom of judicial reports out the door

 

The
judiciary has express knowledge of the gravity of the situation in both Bhopal,
Madhya Pradesh and the entire Golden Corridor of Gujarat. Dr Tapan Chakrabarti &
Dr Claude Alvares, members of Supreme Court Monitoring CommitteeÕs report dated
7th April 2004 clearly states that the Òdumping of hazardous wastes
or their neglect has resulted in the total unavailability of ground water
suppliesÓ in Bhopal and Ankleshwar[1],
and the Supreme Court has released an order based on this report[2]:  We would expect that the Madhya Pradesh
and Central Governments would have taken legal action against Union Carbide
(now Dow Chemical) and forced them to clean up the toxic waste that created the
ground water situation described above.

 

Adding fuel to a
burning fire: importing hazardous waste to a toxic hotspot

 

Let us examine the choice
of incinerating this waste in Ankleshwar. Ankleshwar has been acknowledged as a
hotspot by GPCB. In a report released by Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti in August
of 2005, Ankleshwar had the most hazardous array of chemicals in ambient air as
compared with two other samples from the Golden Corridor. The air sample
collected from Ankleshwar revealed the presence of four cancerous chemicals
much higher than international standards (this, when the local populations did
not complain of smell). The following chemicals were found in the ambient air
at the Ankleshwar Industrial Estate: Hydrogen sulphide, methyl mercaptan,
carbon disulphide, dimethyl disulphide, ethanol, acetone, isopropyl alcohol,
methylene chloride, methyl ethyl ketone, n-hexane, benzene, carbon
tetrachloride, trichloroethene, toluene, ethyl-benzene, m,p-xylenes.  These chemicals affect reproductive
systems, the central nervous system, the kidneys and the liver, among other
things. In spite of presence of such toxic chemicals in the air in Ankleshwar,
GPCB still does not monitor for such pollutants, and thus health effects on
citizens of Ankleshwar remains unknown.
Furthermore:

1.
The
Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF) and Common Incinerator Facility
at Ankleshwar are not regularly monitored by independent experts and regulatory
bodies.

2.
Moreover,
GPCB neither seems to have the capability nor does it monitor the specific
pollutants coming out of such Common Incinerator Facilities.

3.
The
carrying capacity of the area is undeniably strained.

4.
We
object to the concept of dealing with hazardous waste through incineration on
scientific grounds, and do not believe in managing wastes by transforming one
type of hazard into another form.

 

The
Ankleshwar Incinerator: Waste disposal or smokescreen

 

There
is serious doubt as to scientific soundness of incineration as a method to deal
with hazardous solid waste. Moreover, this case, a relatively small batch-fed
incinerator employed by BEIL allows cooling of the chamber and waste which
creates conditions conducive to production of dioxins and furans (which
contribute to various forms of cancer and was released in large quantity during
the original Bhopal explosion), as well as incomplete destruction of other
toxic heavy metals like mercury.  A
GTZ (The German Technical Cooperation) study has shown many shortcomings of the
common incinerator facility at Ankleshwar.  The most worrisome features of this design include:

 

1.
Waste
will have to be repacked by hand to be fed in the incinerator, having an impact
on workers health

2.
Half-hourly
permit limit values may be violated because of thermal peak loads and
inhomogeneous waste feed causing gaseous emission peaks in this design

3.
Heavy
metals such as mercury that is not completely destroyed will then be caught in
the flue gas dust, becoming highly leachable

4.
Special
treatments and immobilization of ash and dust generated during incineration is
required to prevent leaching, yet this is not done in Ankleshwar

5.
Waste
should be stored in underground facilities according to international
standards, but in Ankleshwar, the waste will be stored in above-ground
landfills

 

Objection to this injustice

 

We strongly object to such an
unethical, immoral action and the precedent that it would set.  We object to the permission given by
GPCB for the incineration of this waste.
It strikes us as grossly unjust to physically transport more hazardous
waste to that area from 640 km away.
PSS has already written a letter (dated 25 April 2007) to the GPCB
registering our demand that this waste does not come to Ankleshwar and
registering our belief that changing one type of toxin into another form
through incineration is not the solution.
As a follow up to this letter, Michael Mazgaonkar (of PSS) called Sanjiv
Tyagi (Member Secretary of the GPCB).
Sanjiv Tyagi indicated that the GPCB is taking the PSS letter seriously
and has agreed to review the decision.
We plan on publicly fighting this move by the MP and Gujarat
governments.  We demand to know why
the state bureaucracy is shying away from the public debate that PSS has
demanded.  We will oppose this
tooth and nail.

 

Paryavaran Suraksha
Samiti

 


Rohit Prajapati

Michael Mazgaonkar

Swati Desai

Badribhai Joshi

Trupti Shah

Krishnakant

Anand Mazgaonkar

Shivani Patel


 


[1]  The
report states: ÒÉThe Committee or its members have visited the Union Carbide
Plant in Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh and the Industrial Estates of Vapi, Ankleshwar and Nandesari (Vadodara) and villages around
the Effluent Channel Project (ECP) in Vadodara and Bharuch districts in the State of Gujarat. In all
these areas, due to poor practices of entrepreneurs and laxity of the
authorities in implementing environmental regulations, the dumping of hazardous
wastes or their neglect has resulted in the total unavailability of ground
water supplies. .. The ground water aquifers in all these areas need to be
rehabilitated and recharged and the sources of pollution, particularly
hazardous waste dumpsites need to be expeditiously evacuated.ÉÓ

[2] Because of the horrific contamination of water
described in the above report, HONÕBLE Mr. Justice Y. K. Sabharwal and HONÕBLE
Mr. Justice Mr. S. B. Sinha passed the order on 7th May 2004 on the
behalf of the Supreme Court:

ÒThe [SCMC] report records that due to indiscriminate
dumping of hazardous waste due to non-existent or negligent practices together
with lack of enforcement by authorities, the ground water and, therefore,
drinking water supplies have been effected/damaged. The state Government of
Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are directed to take steps to supply fresh drinking
water in tanks or pipes, particularly, taking into consideration; the fact that
summer season has already set in. It shall be done expeditiously.Ó

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