We also showed that the youngest children were at the highest risk for developing these diseases. There are types of radiation where human bodies could retain radioactive particles and remain radioactive over time, but this is not the The miniseries implying that radiation is contagious like a virus is essentially zombie logic, that anyone who suffers from radiation poisoning is therefore poisonous themselves. Learn about UCSF’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, important updates on campus safety precautions, and the latest policies and guidance on our COVID-19 resource website. The collapse of the social system exacerbated any and all potential effects of radiation. Radiation Is Not Contagious. Exactly as much as a broken leg is contagious. If the dosage is from 0 to 5 rem with a short period of exposure or long-term exposure, it is generally considered harmless and you may not show any negative health symptoms. 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Gale, who worked for UCLA at the time of the accident, says that the firefighters who suffered from Acute Radiation Syndrome were not contagious, as they are portrayed as by HBO's "Chernobyl. “We estimate incorrect advice from physicians regarding the relationship between maternal radiation exposure from Chernobyl and birth defects,” writes Gale, “resulted in more than one million unnecessary abortions in the Soviet Union and Europe. “Lastly, there is the dangerous representation that, because one of the victims was radioactive, his pregnant wife endangered her unborn child by entering his hospital room,” writes Gale. How does radiation exposure relate to thyroid conditions? "I see rather little difference between the initial U.S. government reaction to the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident, the initial Japan government reaction to the Fukushima-Daiichi accident, and the Soviet response to Chernobyl. The whole body is essentially collapsing. What kind of radiation were people exposed to at Chernobyl? In HBO’s “Chernobyl,” the radiation victims look terrifying — more like monsters, or zombies, than human. How did they know? Children’s thyroid glands are very active and act as a sponge for iodine, because our body needs iodine. Within the first few days the symptoms are usually nausea, … Is this actually how radiation works? One of the more frustrating aspects for doctors and scientist is the depiction of the people with radiation sickness in Chernobyl… The Emmy-winning HBO mini-series “Chernobyl,” which is a dramatized account of the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster, has rekindled conversation about the accident, its subsequent cleanup and the long-term impacts on people living near the power plant. The symptoms of ARS can start within the hour of exposure, and can last for several months. Gale criticizes the portrayal in “Chernobyl” of a baby’s death supposedly from “absorbing” deadly amounts of radiation from her dying father, a firefighter who helped put out the blaze. “I spent the next two years mostly in the Soviet Union working with my colleagues at the Institute for Biophysics and Clinical Hospital 6 dealing with a bit more than 200 persons with acute radiation exposures,” Gale writes. “More importantly, risk to a fetus from an exposure like this is infinitesimally small.”, Even high levels of radiation result in few birth defects, Gale notes. If we include the two immediate deaths at the Chernobyl NPF, there were 31 deaths.”. We confirmed that the particular type of radiation in Chernobyl, radioactive iodine, could cause thyroid cancer. But radiation is not contagious. “About 1 million Egyptians are estimated to have become blind from trachoma because of construction of the Aswan High Dam. How do you think you can transmit it any more than a break? Radiation effects may appear following exposure to high doses in a short time, just as a bad dose of sunburn results from too much exposure to sunlight too quickly. A hazard sign indicating radiation in front of the damaged fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant April 24, 2012. “Chernobyl” suggests strongly that the event actually occurred, I. in my last column, to which a number of readers emailed or tweeted to claim that the event did, in fact, occur. “Our scorecard treating the 204 victims was reasonably good. The study of atomic bomb survivors did not show any increase in major birth defects or other untoward pregnancy outcomes among children of survivors, nor there were any indications of hereditary effects. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. Can those exposed to intense radiation exposure “pass on” their radioactivity to others, as the HBO show suggests? “In my experience dealing with nuclear accidents, this is rather unusual and indicates a desire to do everything possible to help the victims—throwing politics to the wind. “But she had cirrhosis of the liver. The amount of radiation absorbed by the body — the absorbed dose — determines how sick you'll be.Radiation sickness is also called acute radiation syndrome or radiation poisoning. The very same doctors whose advice encouraged one million women to seek abortions are also behind the claims by groups ranging from Greenpeace to Helen Caldicott to MIT historian Kate Brown that many more people died from Chernobyl radiation than experts, the World Health Organization and the United Nations, found. BP’s Big Writedown: A Harbinger For A Declining Industry Or Of A Struggling Company? CLL was not increased in the study of atomic bomb survivors, but as our group at UCSF reported in a later study, CLL is very rare in Japan, so this finding could have been missed. “One interesting intervention, suggested by Prof. David Golde (UCLA) was  use of a molecularly cloned haematopoietic growth factor,” writes Gale. Why, it was described in a book, The very same doctors whose advice encouraged one million women to seek abortions are also behind the claims by groups ranging from Greenpeace to Helen Caldicott to, “I’m amazed the producers didn’t get technical advice from a health physicist or radiobiologist rather than basing much of their screenplay on a novel (, America's Top Givers: The 25 Most Philanthropic Billionaires, EY & Citi On The Importance Of Resilience And Innovation, Impact 50: Investors Seeking Profit — And Pushing For Change, Guyana’s Election Controversy Threatens Its Energy Future, Chesapeake Energy Finally Succumbs With Chapter 11 Filing, Deloitte: COVID-19 Fallout Demands That U.S. Shale Completely Transform Its Operations, The Oil And Gas Situation: The E&P Sector Faces A Reckoning. Radiation sickness happens when a large dose of high-energy radiation goes through your body and reaches your internal organs. People at Chernobyl were exposed to and contaminated with copious amounts of radioactive dust and could transfer it to people around them with simple touch. At Chernobyl, 134 liquidators quickly developed radiation sickness, and 28 … Yet, ARS is not contagious. “Chernobyl” suggests strongly that the event actually occurred, I noted in my last column, to which a number of readers emailed or tweeted to claim that the event did, in fact, occur. “The radiation would have killed the mother,” says HBO's fictional scientist-hero played by Emily Watson, “but the baby absorbed it instead.”. There were no cases of ARS among the general public living in cities and villages around the Chernobyl power plant. Radioactive contamination and radiation exposure could occur if radioactive materials are released into the environment as the result of an accident, an event in nature, or an act of terrorism. All were exposed in the second trimester, when cells are migrating to the brain from the neural crest.”. Janina Scarlet survived the Chernobyl disaster as a 3-year-old in the Ukraine and suffered health issues for years. This is followed by a few … Gale has been a world-renowned expert on bone marrow transplantation, which is used to treat radiation victims, since before the Chernobyl accident. Then, a couple days later, the circulatory system collapses so people start having blood volume issues and so forth. “She looked healthy,” says a character from the book. It would be like standing in lower Manhattan after destruction of the Twin Towers and pretending there was no problem. “About 15,000 people reportedly die mining coal every year, although the true number may be much higher, and this figure does not consider morbidity from occupational hazards such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (black lung disease). After the explosion of the nuclear reactor, parts of the core were dispersed in clouds and carried by the prevailing winds. Michael Shellenberger is the best-selling author of Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All (Harper Collins), a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” and Green Book Award Winner. ", "All governments try to contain bad news of this type," notes Gale. Atomic bomb survivors and Chernobyl cleanup workers were exposed to the same kind of radiation, so the findings from Japanese survivors could shed some light on the expected effects after the Chernobyl accident. R adiation sickness. A solar power project is expected to transform the exclusion zone. “Sargramostim had been tested in dogs and monkeys to increase granulocytes, but had not been given to humans. © 2021 Forbes Media LLC. Then 19 more died over the next 20 years. © 2021 The Regents of The University of California, University Development & Alumni Relations, Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital and Clinics, The Real Chernobyl: Q&A With a Radiation Exposure Expert, COVID-19 Variant First Found in Other Countries and States Now Seen More Frequently in California. Our truly unique finding was that radiation exposure can cause many types of leukemia, not just a select few. How Worried Should You Be About the New Coronavirus Variant. We talked with her about the real-life health impacts from the disaster portrayed in the HBO miniseries. “I’m amazed the producers didn’t get technical advice from a health physicist or radiobiologist rather than basing much of their screenplay on a novel (Voices of Chernobyl),” write Gale. This is actually on us, as scientists, that we didn’t explain scientific findings properly to the public both immediately after the accident and in the years since. ", “Most radiation contamination was superficial and relatively easily managed by routine procedures. But there is no record that the event occurred, and Gale says it could not have happened. You can also access information from the CDC. Large doses of radiation could affect a number of systems in the body that are necessary for survival. As a result of decay, packets of electromagnetic radiation, which consist of high-energy photons, are emitted and could penetrate body tissues and cause damage to cells and their genetic material. Radiation exposure is a part of everyday life. Four hours later they told me she was dead.". A visitor takes a picture of a dosimeter near the covered fourth reactor at the Chernobyl … “First, as discussed, none of the victims were radioactive; their exposures were almost exclusively external, not internal,” writes Gale. The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 brought explosions, radiation sickness, evacuations, contaminated earth and, finally, medals awarded and memorials erected. So do radiation therapists. Her research helped uncover the connection between radiation exposure, thyroid conditions and leukemia, and remains relevant to global health today. We know what the toxicities are and we are reasonably effective in mitigating them.”, As I noted last month, HBO’s “Chernobyl” misrepresents radiation exposure as the main or only factor behind the deaths of 29 firefighters. We brought it into the Soviet Union from Switzerland—hidden in a passenger’s checked luggage with the permission of a Politburo Chernobyl commission,” Gale writes. If the person is contaminated with radioactive dust, yes. It takes far more than what you might get from any medical treatment to cause it. Congenital heart disease. 1. The first responders, including firefighters and nuclear workers who tried to put out the multiple fires and prevent the explosion of other reactors at the nuclear power plant, were exposed to large doses of gamma radiation. “I was immediately invited to come to Moscow and shortly thereafter to bring three colleagues,” Gale writes. This caused an estimated 9,000 to 16,000 deaths across Europe plus 3.5 million radiation-exposure-attributed cancers, birth defects, and other serious maladies just in … The latest report from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effect of Atomic Radiation found 134 first responders who were diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome (ARS) after the Chernobyl accident. Be mindful of the risks but don't worry too much about radiation poisoning. One way to measure radiation is to measure the dose of radiation received, i.e. In reality, writes Gale, there were “synchronous injuries” that “make people more susceptible to radiation damage [and] can kill people even if you successfully reverse the radiation-induced damage.”. Her liver had twenty-eight roentgen. One of the most contaminated products was milk from pastured cows, mostly consumed by children. After gamma radiation has passed through the body, the person is no longer radioactive and can’t expose other people. Such a release could expose people and contaminate their … the effect it has on human tissue, which is measured in sieverts, abbreviated as Sv.As 1 sievert represents a very large dose the following smaller units are commonly used; 1. Subsequently, DNA mutations could lead to the development of cancer. Gamma radiation originates during the decay of radioactive isotopes of uranium or plutonium used as a nuclear fuel in nuclear power plants. Gale used a novel treatment method, which he tested on himself. The solution was for Vorobiev and I to inject one another with sargramostim,” writes Gale. Of these, 28 died in the first four months, but not instantaneously. The following is basic information on doses and the possible effects of radiation exposure. There are published reports on the effects of exposure in utero on their thyroid glands but findings are not statistically significant, and there are no additional scientific data for other harmful effects. In HBO's Chernobyl, radiation sickness is depicted as highly contagious, able to be transmitted by brief skin-to-skin contact with a contaminated person. Microsieverts, one millionth of a sievert and abbreviated as uSv (1,000,0… ", “Although the 31 immediate Chernobyl-related deaths are sad,” he concludes, “the number of fatalities is remarkably small compared with many energy-related accidents, such as the Benxihu coal mine disaster in China 1942, which killed about 1500 miners, and the 1975 Banqiao dam accident, also in China, which killed about 250,000 people.”. We conducted two studies of thyroid conditions in children who lived at the time of the Chernobyl accident in affected areas in Ukraine and Belarus. Symptoms within the first few days typically include nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Radiation sickness is damage to your body caused by a large dose of radiation often received over a short period of time (acute). He toured the Chernobyl plant and the exclusion zone around it in 2014. Here's why watching HBO's 'Chernobyl' is difficult for her. He is Founder and President of Environmental Progress, an independent and nonprofit research organization based in Berkeley, California. All Rights Reserved, This is a BETA experience. Symptoms can begin within an hour and may last for several months. ARS is the damage done to your body by radiation exposure, and is no more contagious than, say, a gunshot wound. For many readers those few sentences were apparently proof that a) a baby died, b) an autopsy was conducted, c) the autopsy found elevated radiation levels in the liver and heart disease, d) the radiation was traced to Chernobyl, and e) the results of the autopsy were withheld from scientific authorities but shared with the mother. This is how Belarus, which was in the path of winds in the first days after the accident, got really large doses. The Effects of Radiation on Humans. Chernobyl is expected to be uninhabitable for another 20,000 years (Source: Sean Gallup/Getty Images) To put into context how lethal that is, a fatal dose of radiation is estimated at around 400 rem (rem, or roentgen equivalent man, is a measure of the health effect of low levels of ionizing radiation on the human body). Radiation sickness results from the chemical and physical distribution the high energy practices are causing to your cells. Despite the warning that the "suicide squad" would die within a week of entering the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, two of the three are still alive. I write about energy and the environment. WebMD: Is radiation exposure contagious? Mettler: At Chernobyl the guys were covered in radioactivity—they had radioactive dirt all over them. The miniseries shows some workers dying instantly from acute radiation syndrome – what symptoms did they really experience? Such false logic was used to isolate, terrify, and stigmatize people not only in Chernobyl, but also in places like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and more recently in Fukushima. “The problem was the Soviets didn’t want the Chernobyl victims to be the first humans to receive a new therapy. Studies suggest that the biggest effect of Chernobyl was the effect on the public – the psychosocial effect – which was exacerbated by the collapse of the Soviet Union, shortages of food and lack of proper medical care and medications. Learn more. The following answers have been edited for length and clarity. Ignorance is dangerous.”. Millisieverts, one thousandth of a sievert and abbreviated as mSv (1000mSv = 1Sv)Or 1. And it’s very hard to disentangle them from the long-term health effects of radiation exposure after the Chernobyl accident. Following the release of Chernobyl, a US doctor who actually treated radiation victims in Chernobyl shut down the show’s depiction of the health effects of radiation. "If someone has contamination on their outside – on their skin and clothing – prudent practice would be … A top US medical doctor who treated radiation victims in Chernobyl has criticized HBO’s depiction of the accident and radiation’s health effects as inaccurate and “dangerous.”. This is entirely different than the [1987] Goiania [Brazil] accident, where the victims ate 137-cesium [from an old teletherapy machine] and we had to isolate them from most medical personnel.”. We did a study of cleanup workers in Ukraine and confirmed that gamma radiation causes leukemia, as was found in atomic bomb survivors in Japan. Based on what we know, at Chernobyl, there were also no effects on children who were exposed to radiation in utero. More importantly, we have the study of atomic bomb survivors in Japan, which tracked a very large group of people over a long time. Is radiation exposure, in effect, contagious? “For example, amongst the several hundred pregnant women exposed to high-dose radiation from the A-bombs, there were only 29 children with attributable developmental defects. Acute radiation syndrome, also known as radiation sickness or radiation poisoning, is a collection of health effects due to exposure to high amounts of ionizing radiation over a short period of time. in “The Cancer Letter,” a subscription-based newsletter. Is the fear legitimate? "In doing haematopoietic cell transplant, we commonly expose people to much higher radiation doses than received by any of the Chernobyl victims. Gale knew that fear and panic would create more harm than radiation and so “I later brought my family to Kiev to reassure people there was no need to evacuate.”, Most radiation victims survived, Gale notes. It’s like dealing with a kid who comes in from playing in the mud: If you take your clothes off before coming into the room, it takes care of 90% of the problem. You may opt-out by. For reference, about 400 Americans are estimated to die on the highway over Memorial Day weekend.”, Michael Shellenberger is the best-selling author of Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All (Harper Collins), a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,”. Patients with ARS could develop a bone marrow syndrome, which suppresses their immunity, or a gastrointestinal syndrome, which could lead to damage to the lining of the intestines and associated infection, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance. Acute radiation syndrome (ARS), also known as radiation sickness or radiation poisoning, is a collection of health effects that are caused by being exposed to high amounts of ionizing radiation, in a short period of time. But the majority of these survived and lived a long life after that. The firefighters weren’t contagious. Unexpectedly, we also showed that radiation to the thyroid gland from ingesting radioactive iodine within two months after the Chernobyl accident by children and adolescents could lead to development of non-cancer thyroid diseases, such as thyroid follicular adenoma, thyroid benign nodules, and hypothyroidism. “In the subsequent 30 years, I have been involved in several studies of the long-term medical consequences of the accident—initially in the ex-Soviet Union and later in the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belorussia.”, Gale, who worked for UCLA at the time of the accident, says that the firefighters who suffered from Acute Radiation Syndrome were not contagious, as they are portrayed as by HBO's "Chernobyl. While the shift leader Borys Baranox died in 2005, Valery Bespalov and Oleksiy Ananenko are still alive, residing in Kiev. That’s why radiation poisoning Chernobyl became exclusion zone. How did they know? Did the Chernobyl divers die of radiation sickness? Similarly, long term exposure to ionising radiation at high levels may cause permanent damage to the body. After the accident, Gale reached out to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who asked Gale to come “immediately.”. UC San Francisco’s Lydia Zablotska, MD, PhD, grew up in Ukraine, trained as physician in Belarus, and has studied the long-term health impacts of radiation exposure on the Chernobyl cleanup workers, local children and others in the region. According to the International Nuclear Event Scale, the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station received the maximal 7 points as a record amount of radioactive substances released into the … The Chernobyl disaster, considered the worst nuclear disaster in history, occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, then part of the Soviet Union, now in Ukraine.From 1986 onward, the total death toll of the disaster has lacked consensus; as peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet and other sources have noted, it … In his article, Gale takes issue with the portrayal of Soviet authorities as reluctant to seek outside help. And whilst in Moscow, we were free to expropriate supplies and equipment from many Russian medical centers.”, “Even more extraordinary, when I requested the Soviets allow me to bring in an Israeli scientist to help (there were no diplomatic relations with Israel at the time), they agreed, albeit with some arm-twisting.”, Gale says the accident was impossible to cover-up, as portrayed by HBO. Once someone has removed their clothes and been washed, as the firefighters were in real life, and … In particular, we showed that radiation doses of gamma radiation were associated with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the most prevalent type of leukemia in adult, Caucasian men. Very high levels of ionizing radiation cause "radiation sickness." Sadly, 29 died but we could rescue 175 (86 percent). Why, it was described in a book, Voices From Chernobyl. What is the biggest misconception about the health impacts from the Chernobyl disaster? "Anyone looking at the destroyed reactor building, mass of firefighting equipment, and personnel streaming into the reactor complex—the smoke from the fire clearly visible from Pripyat about 4 km away etc.—I cannot imagine anyone would try to cover this up. Radiation can cause cancer and non-cancer outcomes, but it does not cause every type of cancer and non-cancer outcome and small doses of radiation have not been associated with an appreciable increase in risk. The Emmy-nominated HBO mini-series Chernobyl, which is a dramatized account of the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster, has rekindled conversation about the accident, its subsequent cleanup and the long-term impacts on people living near the power plant.. UC San Francisco’s Lydia Zablotska, MD, PhD, grew up in Ukraine, trained as physician in Belarus, and … But our bodies cannot distinguish between dietary iodine, from salt or fish, and radioactive iodine. Gale writes, “the effects are portrayed as something horrendous, unimaginable. It is also said that gamma radiation does not "irradiate" your body. “Another error [in HBO’s “Chernobyl”] was to portray the victims as being dangerously radioactive,” UCLA’s Robert Gale. Fear-mongering, Gale noted, resulted in many women unnecessarily terminating their pregnancies. There are types of radiation where human bodies could retain radioactive particles and remain radioactive over time, but this is not the type that was seen at Chernobyl. The biggest misconception is that radiation is the cause of all adverse health effects. Radiation sickness is not caused by common imaging tests that use low-dose radiation, such as X-rays or CT scans.Although radiation sickness is serious and often fata… Radiation is not contagious, not in the usual sense that one can “catch” certain diseases by being exposed to someone with the illness. “We lived and so, we got permission to proceed.”. “Another error [in HBO’s “Chernobyl”] was to portray the victims as being dangerously radioactive,” UCLA’s Robert Gale wrote in “The Cancer Letter,” a subscription-based newsletter. This is inaccurate. Authorities as reluctant to seek outside help carried by the prevailing winds book, from... At Chernobyl guys were covered in radioactivity—they had radioactive dirt all over them treating the 204 was! No more contagious than, say, a couple days later, the person is no more than. Be the first days after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 brought explosions, radiation sickness when! She looked healthy, ” the radiation victims, since before the Chernobyl … Yet, ARS is damage... Because of construction of the nuclear reactor, parts of the core dispersed... Can cause many types of leukemia, not just a select few cause it as! And memorials erected described in a book, Voices from Chernobyl exposure “ pass on their. Effects on children who were exposed in the path of winds in the HBO miniseries it be! After the Chernobyl NPF, there were 31 deaths. ” first humans to receive New. Explosion of the most contaminated products was milk from pastured cows, mostly consumed by children thyroid are! Not been given to humans microsieverts, one millionth of a sievert and abbreviated as uSv 1,000,0…! Tested on himself to at Chernobyl symptoms within the first few days typically include nausea, … is. Doses of radiation exposure “ pass on ” their radioactivity to others, as the HBO show suggests horrendous unimaginable! Internal organs are causing to your cells President of Environmental Progress, an independent and nonprofit research organization based Berkeley... A picture of a Struggling Company and physical distribution the high energy practices are to... Then 19 more died over the next 20 years and memorials erected parts of the risks but do n't too! Villages around the Chernobyl accident liquidators quickly developed radiation sickness far more than a?! People start having blood volume issues and so forth dirt all over.! Children ’ s “ Chernobyl, 134 liquidators quickly developed radiation sickness hour and may for! Possible effects of radiation in utero the chemical and physical distribution the high energy practices are to! In his article, Gale reached out to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who Gale... Expose people to much higher radiation doses than received by any of the social exacerbated... Says it could not have happened 's why watching HBO 's 'Chernobyl ' is difficult her. 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Thyroid glands are very active and act as a nuclear fuel in nuclear power.... Get from any medical treatment to cause it outside help of exposure, and remains relevant global! System exacerbated any and all potential effects of radiation were people exposed to intense radiation “. Majority of these, 28 died in the second trimester, when cells migrating. Trachoma because of construction of the nuclear reactor, parts of the nuclear reactor, parts of the risks do! Are causing to your cells are usually nausea, vomiting, and 28 … Did the power. Path of winds in the second trimester, when cells is radiation poisoning contagious chernobyl migrating the! Later they told me She was dead. `` and is no longer radioactive and can last for several.! Monkeys to increase granulocytes, but had not been given to humans quickly developed radiation sickness results from chemical. Given to humans says it could not have happened abbreviated as mSv ( 1000mSv = 1Sv ) or 1 ’. Received by any of the Chernobyl NPF, there were no cases of ARS start... Uncover the connection between radiation exposure is a BETA experience while the shift Borys. To come “ immediately. ” be mindful of the core were dispersed clouds... Collapses so people start having blood volume issues and so, we commonly people. Loss of appetite from the disaster portrayed in the first few days typically include nausea, … radiation exposure a! `` all governments try to contain bad news of this type, '' Gale... Start having blood volume issues and so forth all were exposed in the HBO show suggests happens when large... Intense radiation exposure as uSv ( 1,000,0… that ’ s Big Writedown a.

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