Journal of Environmental Protection, 2011, 2, 213-220
doi:10.4236/jep.2011.23025 Published Online May 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Impact of Iron Ore Tailing on Foraminifera of the
Uppateru River Estuary, East Coast of India
Nadimikeri Jayaraju1, Balam Chinnapolla Sundara Raja Reddy2, Kambham Reddeppa Reddy2,
Addula Nallapa Reddy3
1Department of Geoinformatics, Yogi Vemana University, Andhra Pradesh, India; 2Department of Geology, Sri Venkateswara
University, Andhra Pradesh, India; 3ONGC Regional Labs, Rajahmundry, India.
Received June 8th, 2010; revised February 1st, 2011; accepted March 2nd, 2011.
Benthic foraminiferal assemblages have been used to determine the effects of Iran ore tailing pollution on the marine
environment. The presen t paper attempts to unveil pollution impact as responded b y foraminiferal species of Uppateru
estuary. The faunal data thus generated is compared with earlier data sets for possible adverse effects. There has been
substantial reduction in total foraminiferal number (TFN), from 574 in 2006 to 213 in 2008 species (St.No.3) per10
gram sediment. Even the total species number (TSN) decreased from 27 in (St.No.8) 2006 to 8 (St.No.1) in 2008. Am-
monia accounted for its share (68%), followed by Elphidium (7.4%) and Quinqueloculina (6.5%). These genera are
considered to be robu st and o ppo rtunistic typ e in the study a rea. Th is fauna l variation in terms o f density (TFN) may be
owing to the pollution caused by iron ore tailing. This study also supports the view that benthic foraminiferal biota can
be used as a tool to monitor marine pollution in general and estuarine environment in specific.
Keywords: Iron Ore Tailing, Foraminifera, Pollution, Mining, Uppateru, East Coast of I ndia
1. Introduction
1.1. General Perspective on Pollution
Anthropogenic pollution has adversely affected almost
every habitat on the planet. The badly damaged and de-
terred are marine marginal bodies like, estuaries, creeks,
lakes etc. The world wide explosion human population
has resulted in dramatic changes in the quality and quan-
tity of estuarine environment. This has produced sub-
stantial changes to the biota of many of the more shel-
tered coastal marine and brackish environment. Pollut-
ants derived from mine tailings have been shown to ac-
cumulate in estuarine sediments, reaching concentrations
potentially capable of causing biological effects, how-
ever, is difficult due to strong natural environmental gra-
dients and the effects of past or present point-sources of
contamination [1-3].
The character of foraminifera to document pollution
signatures and preserve them was proposed to be poten-
tial tool for temporal pollution monitoring studies [4].
Nevertheless, one of the short comings of this work that
hampered the effective application of foraminifers for
pollution monitoring was the lack of availability of stu-
dies documenting presence of specific pollutants and also
the pressure of similar foraminiferal characteristics from
few naturally stressed areas [5]. The application of fo-
raminifera for pollution studies was key because of their
high sensitivity to minute variations in density (abun-
dance) and diversity. Because of this sensitivity fora-
minifera is considered to be one of the most useful pro-
xies for the ecotoxicological studies in marine environ-
ment in general and the marginal near shore environment
in specific [4]. Thus pollution affects all aspects of life
on earth and the incorporation of these effects of pollu-
tants by some of the life forms like foraminifera make
them effective indicator for pollution.
Foraminifers are extremely sensitive to the slightest
change in the environmental conditions. They have good
preservation and fossilization potential and thus have
been used extensively in pollution studies across the
world [4,6-12]. The application of foraminifera for pol-
lution monitoring is based on the variation in population
or density (Total Foraminiferal Number, TFN), species
diversity (Total Species Number, TSN) and abnormali-
ties documented by the test morphology [13,14]. The
present paper attempts to investigate the impact of iron
ore dust on the foraminiferal density (TFN; abundance)
and diversity (TSN) of Uppateru river estuary, which
Impact of Iron Ore Tailing on Foraminifera of the Uppateru River Estuary, East Coast of India
hither to remain unstudied. This study is considered to be
first of its kind carried out from study area with respect
to iron ore tailings.
1.2. Study Area
India’s 6300 km long coast line like any other coast line
in the world is a store house of various resources. On its
east coast, having a length of 2300 km, Nellore coast (60
km) is famous for iron ore export. The export activity
results in huge quantities of mining rejects that make
their way to estuary during the monsoons and finally into
the Bay of Bengal. Nevertheless, it is understood that the
ability of any system to withstand and absorb pollutants
is limited and therefore, these mining activities take their
toll on marine biota.
Uppateru estuarine complex (Krishnapatnam Port) has
a great significance because it is not only a godown/
storehouse of iron ore (International supplier of iron ore)
but also one of the key harbors along the east coast of
India. The estuary is being used for export traffic.
Therefore, the estuary is considered for the present study
to monitor the effect of iron ore tailing on foraminiferal
Topography: Uppateru has an area of approximately
100 km2. It is located between 14˚07' and 14˚10' N and
80˚03' and 80˚06' E (Figure 1). The water depth during
fauna is around 1m to 4 m. The fresh water it receives is
from the tributary Uppateru of the river Penna. The estu-
ary opens in to Bay of Bengal at its mouth and in this
channel area the tidal effect is always manifested.
Hydrography: Shallow water bodies wherein average
depth is less than 3 m are more abundant than the deep
bodies and are refereed to as wetlands. The present study
area comes under wetland category. The riverlets that
open into it bring approximately 100,000 lakh ton of silt.
In the estuary, the sediments are mostly muddy in nature
with an admixture of mud and fine sand. The sediments
of the estuary become coarser with distance towards the
mouth and there is a Bay-ward decrease in mud.
Geography: The present study area is slightly mode-
rate and laterally compressed by sand along east coast of
India. Development of sandbars and crenulated appear-
ance of mouths may be due to constant working of the
water currents on the coastal front. The region around
this estuary is represented more or less level land com-
posed of recent deposits such as marine deposits, depo-
sits, and sand dunes. The marine deposits formed mainly
as a result of regression of the sea and modified by in
part by fluvitale process. The alluvium of these rivers is
essentially composed of sand, silt and clay in varying
proportions and is restricted to very narrow strips in the
banks of the river and tributaries. They are usually pale
gray and occasionally dark brown. This was result of
admixture with laterities, which derived from laterite
desposits cropping out in a large area around the estuary.
The estuary is rather narrow probably because of the
moister northeast trade winds not being the powerful
enough to carry the sand for inland, while the drier
southeast trade winds carry much of its back again to the
Geology: Geologically, the Nellore district forms part
of the Cudddapah supergroup and is covered mostly with
green-schist facies of metamorphic rocks of Precambrian
age. Iron ore mined from near by area is being trans-
ported by trucks and lorries to the Krishnapatam Port
(Uppateru estuary) for an international export. A daily
shipping of 50,000 - 60,000 tones of iron ore is being
transported by about 1200 - 1500 trucks to the Krishna-
patnam Port (Uppateru River estuary). Two millions
tones of iron ore are stacked in large dumps along the
shores of Uppateru estuary for shipment. Wind and rain
erode these dumps (mainly during the monsoons) trans-
porting material in water bodies. Thus, the estuarine wa-
ter contains a high concentration of Total Suspended
Matter (TSM) that comprises of iron ore. Uppateru estu-
ary being easily accessible and navigable forms to be the
cost-effective means of transporting mined ore. The
Krishnapatnam port, one of the emerging key harbors
along the east coast of India, handles an export load of
iron ore over 0.4 million tones per month. The study area
enjoys a warm tropical climate with an average rainfall
of 150 - 200 cm and an average temperature of 22˚C all
through the year, except December to February when it
is cool and pleasant [15].
2. Material and Methods
Using the Peterson grab, 14 bottom sediment samples
from different sites in the Uppateru estuary were col-
lected (Figure 1, Table 1). The location of each sample
site was determined by two permanent land marks. The
upper 2 cm of sediment collected was sampled and
stored in polyethylene bottles to avoid contamination.
From the study area, certain Physico-chemical parame-
ters like salinity, pH, Temp, Ec, Do, TSMetc., were
measured using Elico water analysis kit [16].
Foraminiferal Analysis: For carrying out foramina-
feral investigations, approximately 10 g of sediment
sample were first kept in the oven for drying over night
at 60˚C temperature. The dried samples were then soaked
in the water for a tray. To disperse, the lumps of clay in
the samples, sodium hexa-meta-phosphate was added
and kept for a day. Then hydrogen peroxide was added
and kept overnight to disintegrate organic matter. Finally,
the samples were washed through a 63 µ sieve a slow
shower with a low water pressure to prevent the fo-
raminiferal test breakage. The sand fraction thus ob-
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Impact of Iron Ore Tailing on Foraminifera of the Uppateru River Estuary, East Coast of India
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
tained was dried and examined for foraminifera [13]. The
species are systematically arranged following [17]. The
total foraminiferal number (TFN) in each sample was
completed and standardized to 10 gram dry sediment,
foraminifers, almost entirely marine protozoans being
highly sensitive to their surroundings have been reliably
used to detect sources and extents of marine pollution [4].
The Total Species Number (TSN), is the absolute value
of diversity in the study area. Total Suspended Matter
(TSM) was determined by standard procedure [5].
3. Results
Investigations from water tropical climates have shown
that Iron ore tailings usually show higher concentrations
of dissolved Iron and particulate suspended matter, thus
changing the chemistry of water, sediment and bio ac-
cumulation [18]. TSM values range from 86.5 (st.13) to
280.5 mg/l (st.10) (Table 1). The middle estuary (st.8 -
10) has recorded a maximum depth (2.1 m) with less
dissolved oxygen (4.2 ml·l1). Further, depth has also
positive bearing with the TSM recording a maximum
(280.5 mg/l) at middle estuary (st.10). The minimum
(86.5 mg/l) was recorded at the riverward (st.13). This is
because the shipment activity of iron ore is almost absent
at the upstream direction of the riverlet. The observed
trend of certain physico-chemical properties could be
attributed to the evaporation and subsequent dilution due
to precipitation and runoff from the catchment area dur-
Figure 1. Study are a with sampling stations.
Table 1. Sampling stations versus and physico-c he mic al parameters and TSM.
(E) pH
Air bottom
Ec at 25˚C
(Millimhos/Cm) Salinity
1 14.24536 80.10828 7.8 35.6 34.51.2 86 36.84 14 0.99 213.5
2 14.24994 80.11031 7.6 35.8 34.52 80 36.34.5 16 1.06 110.2
3 14.25053 80.11683 7.5 35.9 34.81.8 74 35.24.6 27 1.98 105.9
4 14.24597 80.11613 7.8 35.8 35.71.4 59 35.24.4 30 1.56 98.2
5 14.24475 80.13108 7.9 35.6 34.50.9 67 35.23.9 30 0.99 201.3
6 14.25058 80.12917 7.8 35.7 34.50.7 81 35.93.5 20 0.98 146.5
7 14.25060 80.12639 7.5 35.8 34.51.5 86 36.84.1 11 1.25 196.5
8 14.25061 80.13454 7.2 35.8 35.61.8 81 36.24.3 26 2.22 250.3
9 14.23487 80.10427 7.8 35.7 34.52.1 61 35.64.2 24 2.37 269.5
10 14.24322 80.10842 7.9 38.9 34.71.5 68 35.64.7 21 1.99 280.5
11 14.24003 80.10739 7.8 35.8 34.41.6 81 35.23.6 19 1.98 125.3
12 14.24324 80.10231 7.5
35.5 34.51.9 70 36.54.5 18 1.35 93.4
13 14.25419 80.10961 7.5 35.7 34.50.9 71 35.64.2 28 1.64 86.5
14 14.24981 80.26643 7.9 35.8 34.50.7 66 35.24.7 35 1.12 119.2
Impact of Iron Ore Tailing on Foraminifera of the Uppateru River Estuary, East Coast of India
ing rainy season [19]. High pH (st.10; 7.9) of waters in
the middle estuary could be ascribed to increased photo-
synthetic assimilation of dissolved inorganic carbon by
planktons (Farrell et al., 1979). A similar effect could
also be produced by water evaporation of monocarbonate
[20]. The high alkalinity of estuarine waters might be
due to the use of detergents by neighboring population
washing of clothes, vehicles and utensils. A wash off
from area having calcite and dolomite minerals cloud
also partly contribute to the alkalinity [8]. Low dissolved
oxygen (st.6; 3.5) might also be due to anticipated higher
microbial activities. High dissolved oxygen (st.10; 4.7)
in the middle estuary could be anticipated lower micro-
bial activities. Further, microbial activities have negative
bearing with TSM. Decomposition of organic matter
might be an important factor in consumption of dissolved
oxygen [21]. It shows the middle estuary (st.8 - 10) has
considerable TSM than mouth and riverward direction.
This is because middle estuary is relatively stagnant than
mouth and river ward direction.
3.1. Foraminiferal Distribution
Examination of the TFN-TSM plot indicates that there is
considerable inverse relationship noticed (Figure 3). The
more TSM the less TFN and vice versa (Figures 2 and 3).
During 2006, this Krishnapatnam port was not much
used for export of iron ore. However, it has begun slowly
after 2006 and now huge quantities of iron ore trans-
ported from far west of Ananthapur and Bellary districts,
is store house for export at the banks of Uppateru river
estuary (Krishnapatnam). Before and during shipment a
considerable amount of iron ore dust/tailing is let in to
estuary and forms as total suspended matter (TSM). This
started to hamper the reproduction, abundance and diver-
sity of fauna (Figure 2). Usually, the foraminifers are
very sensitive to any possible slight change of distur-
bance of ecosystem. Owing to its sensitivity the life cy-
cle of fauna got effected and contaminant species were
extinct and some have badly affected [4,10]. A total of
36 foraminiferal species are here recorded in the surface
sediments (the upper 2 cm) of Uppateru (Table 2). Only
the census of dead specimens is discussed in this paper
with respect to the test density (TFN) and diversity (TSN)
and spatial distribution. Faunal diversity (TSN) in the
surface sediments of the lake average 22 ± 3 species per
sample (Table 2). Diversity values range from 4 - 27
species. Ammonia beccarii and Ammonia dentata are the
most dominant species in the surface sediments of the
study area and represent ~ 75% of the total dead assem-
blage. Ammonia beccari occurs through out the estuary
with a mean frequency of 68%, and has highest percent-
age (76%) during post monsoon (Figures 2 and 3). Dis-
tribution of total Miliolids is similar to that of Rotalids.
The agglutinated assemblage is rare in the estuary and is
Sampling Stations
Total crop (TFN)
P re m onsoon
P ost mons oon
P re m onsoon
Sampling sta tions
Di versity (TSN)
P re m onsoon
P ost mons oon
P re m onsoon
Figure 2. Total crop (TFN) and Diversity (TSN) v/s sam-
pling stations (TFN and TSN have not shown for sampling
stations 6 - 8 as the Fauna was absent in those stations in
premonsoon, 2006).
Sampli ng stations
T S M (mg/l ) an d T F N (P r e
monsonn 2008)
TSM ( mg /l)
TFN (Pre
m onsoo n 2008)
Figure 3. TSN and Total Foraminiferal Number (TFN)
erses sampling stations of Pre monsoon 2008. v
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Impact of Iron Ore Tailing on Foraminifera of the Uppateru River Estuary, East Coast of India 217
Table 2. Faunal distribution versus sampling stations.
Sampling Stations
Pre Monsoon 2006 Post Monsoon 2006 Pre Monsoon 2008
S.No Species
1 2 34512345678 1 2 345
1 Adelosina Laevigata 1 1 8 7 1
2 Adelosinasemistrata 3 82
3 Ammobaculites Exiguous 328 54812 32
4 Ammonia Beccarii 23 92 5440116217686420328155162 554 5 25 54108
5 Ammonia Dentata 45 167 155 9 2 126 4 104 141
6 Aste r orotalia Trispinosa 46 45 28 2 216 40 32 25
7 Cibi c i d es L o b a t u l us 18
8 E lphidium Advena 11605 1
9 Elphidium Crispum 23 6 5
10 Elphidium Delicatulum 45 1 1 2
11 Elphidium Excavatum 2 12546 5 5 14 12
12 Elphidium Macellum 6 7 5 21 9 6 2
13 Elphidium Norvangi 2 4 1 658 2 2 2 1
14 Hanzawaia Nipponica 3 3 2 2 1 88 4 7
15 Haplopharagm iodes Hanckoki 143 1 141
16 Miliolinellasubrotunda 1 82 4 2
17 Nonion Grateloupi 1 5 1 8 6 2
18 Nonionella Labradorica 4 2 2 2 11 12 7 12 2
19 Pararotalia Nipponica 4 12
20 Poroeponides Lat eralis 2 81
21 Quinqueloculi n a Agglutinans 1 12 9
22 Quinqueloculina Bicornis 4 58 5
23 Quinqueloculina Lamarckiana 2 15
24 Quinqueloculina Milletti 220 2 24
25 Quinqueloculi n a Seminula 4 12
26 Quinqueloculi n a sp 4 4 4 4 516 8
27 Rolshausenia Rolshauseni 10 68 57 10
28 Siphogene r i na Raphanus 2 2 28
29 Spiroloculina Communis 23 6 2
30 Spiroloculina Depressa 2 1 1 45 5 10 1
31 Spiroloculina Henbesti 4 7 46 50 8 6
32 Textularia Agglutinans 4 1 81
33 Triloculina Striatitrigonula 628 9
34 Triloculina Tricarinata 1
35 Triloculina Trigonula 2
36 Trochammina G lobigeriniformis 1
Total (# specimens/10 grams of dry) 147 347 22744817947621847344953518090 229 78 180 2131262
Diversity (No.of specimen/sample) 13 15 812422715814519 27 8 6 771
Faunal distribution for Pre monsoon 2006 Note: Stations 6-14 w ere not given as there is no fauna recorded in those stations; Faunal distribution for Post mon-
soon—2006 Note : Stations 9-14 are not given as they have no fauna; Faunal distribution for Pre monsoon—present study Note : Stations 7-14 are not given as
ey have no fauna. th
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Impact of Iron Ore Tailing on Foraminifera of the Uppateru River Estuary, East Coast of India
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
represented by Trochammina globigerinoformis. It is
absent from most of the estuary, occurring sporadically
in (st.6) post monsoon. The low foraminiferal density as
indicated by high values of TFM (Figure 3). Usually the
stressed conditions are unfavorable for most of the spe-
cies (Table 1). However, stressed condition favour some
species (Ammonia beccarii and Ammonia dentata) that
reproduce rapidly in the lake and attain a large biomass
with in a short time [22]. These high abundances in the
estuary surface sediments were found in areas dominated
by bioclastic sand and high carbonate content (st.8-10),
where as the minimum faunal density (TFN) was found
in areas dominated by fine grained (clay + silt) sediments.
Alternatively, dilution of iron ore tailings into fine-grained
sediments may account for the low test density in the
certain parts of the estuary.
Regarding the species diversity (TSN), the average
number of species per sample is about 22 ± 3 (range 4 -
27) but lower diversity co-occurs with lower faunal den-
sity (Table 2). The faunal assemblage recorded in this
study is, in general, as diverse as those previously re-
corded [15]. The decline of the both faunal density (TFN)
and diversity (TSN) is probably related to unfavorable
conditions, most likely exerted by the occurrence of high
TSM resulted from accumulation of iron ore dust at dif-
ferent parts of the estuary activated by the action of wind
and water. This may cause organic matter degradation by
aerobic and anaerobic bacteria [22]. This has been asso-
ciated with high mass mortality of benthos in the estuary.
Miliolids like Quinquelo culina seminu la are more in post
monsoon and has a positive correlation with salinity and
organic matters (Table 2). This Quinqueloculina sem i nula
is a “salinity” indicator species in the estuary and also
may benefit from the high organic matter. High fre-
quency species (Ammonia beccarii, Ammonia dentata
and Asteroro talia trispinosa) occur in the middle estuary
where medium grained sediments dominate. Their fre-
quency declines towards both the seaward and upstream
of river. These findings indicate a possible relationship
between these species and medium grained sediment.
Visual examination of the sediments show that most
sand-dominated substrates mainly consisting of bioclas-
tic materials such as foraminiferal tests, ostracod cara-
paces, pelecypod valves, gastropod shells and tubes of
polychetes, indicating that the calcareous fauna plays a
significant role in the carbonate budget of the estuary.
3.2. Foraminifera v/s Pollution
Ammonia beccarii a cosmopolitan and umbiguitous spe-
cies survived this iron ore tailing pollution. However, its
number was drastically decreased (Figure 2). Species
like Elphidium advena and Elphidium crispum were not
in abundance. Robust category like Quinqueloculina sp
was partially responded for this pollution. Some biota
like Elphidium norvangi was almost absent. [23] at-
tempted to reduce the confounding effect of the TSM
gradient on correlation between biota and contaminants
in the James river estuary, Virginia, by analyzing data
from different section of the gradient separately. In the
saline portions of the estuary, abundance and biomass of
dominant taxa were larger immediately below a large
sewage outfall but otherwise the community was similar
to that found away from the outfall [23]. In contrast, in
the tidal, freshwater part of the estuary, where the con-
founding influences of salinity and estuarine circulations
were absent, the fauna showed more wide spread
changes that correlated with contamination [1]. Commu-
nities showed least diversity in areas where TSM was
most abundant. There was a reasonable consistency in
the TSM that correlated with TFN (Figure 3). These
results indicate that relationship between micro faunal
communities and suites of pollutant variables in estuary
may change through time. However, the present study
has provided some correlational evidence consistent with
a biological effect of contamination derived from iron
ore shipment although, it suffers from many other factors
already existed in the estuarine environment. Measure-
ment of other, natural stressors, such as concentrations of
dissolved oxygen (Do), ammonia and sulphides and re-
dox potential, might have clarified the role of contami-
nants from iron ore dust [1]. Integrative assessments of
impact based on weight-of-evidence drawn from patterns
of distribution of contaminants and organisms in the filed
and toxicity pests [24] perhaps the most relative method
of identifying impacts of contaminates derived from
storm water on estuarine micro fauna [25]. The correla-
tive approach is there by made more robust by the addi-
tional use of toxicity tests. The former may provide evi-
dence, in the form of patterns of distribution of contami-
nants and fauna, consistent with an impact. In the ab-
sence of information on the distribution of contaminants,
on the other hand experimental approaches cannot dem-
onstrate an impact in a particular estuary [1]. Their value
lies testing the casual relationship underlying the correla-
tions. In addition, in order to get better understanding of
adverse effects of various anthropogenic activities, fo-
raminiferal analysis be made mandatory, during all pre
and post mining environmental impact assessment (EIA)
4. Conclusions
Biological recovery studies have shown that foraminifera
responds rapidly to the environmental pollution [26].
This is due to short life cycle, readily passive dispersion
Impact of Iron Ore Tailing on Foraminifera of the Uppateru River Estuary, East Coast of India 219
and faster colonization [27]. This is in accor dance with
our observation of a fair correlation between total pol-
lutant contents and total morphological abnormality cou-
pled with spatial fluctuations. Conclusions of study are
derived as here under.
1) Density (abundance—TFN)) and diversity of fo-
raminiferal crop (TSN) has showed a wider fluctuation in
the study area. This may have resulted owing to iron ore
dust factor suspended in the water as Total Suspended
Matter (TSM).
2) The foraminiferal fauna is almost disappeared near
the disposable area of iron ore. However, recolonization
started immediately after the termination of disposal at
selected stations, but the species composition is still very
different from original one.
3) Low density (TFN—abundance of species) and di-
versity (TSN) occurred in almost all areas (sts1-14) of
the Krishnapatnam port activity site.
4) Although it is not a straight forward procedure to
distinguish between natural and anthropogenic effects/
stress an foraminifera, the mining related environmental
impact is so high compared to natural background impact
that we conclude that fluctuation in diversity and density
represent a useful biomarker for Iron ore tailing con-
tamination near Uppateru and that repeated sampling and
measurements in the future will improve the understand-
ing of long term biotic impacts [27].
5) Decrease in the TFN and increase in TSM values in
the year (2008) seem to indicate a possible increase in
the iron ore dump in the Uppateru area. This suggests the
determinations of estuarine health warrants further study.
6) In this study the diversity and density reduction of
foraminifera are used as retrogressive bioindicator of
iron ore tailing pollution.
5. Acknowledgements
NJR thanks Prof. A. R. Reddy, Vice-chancellor, Yogi
Vemana University, Kadapa. We thank Dr. Raymond L.
Kepner, Jr., USA, for improving the quality of English
language of the paper.
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