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Baku In Azerbaijan: Pollution Levels

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 5370 words Published: 8th Jun 2017

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Imagine that you are walking down the street and see nothing but stones, ruins, fissures on the land; it’s dark and you even do not see what is happening near you because of fog and soot, you try to get something attractive, you want to see blue sea and white seagulls over it, but again, you see nothing but the cruel reality and the saddest thing is that you realize – there is nowhere to run to escape this.. It is our world; this is what happened with the planet as a result of human activity. You wish you could leave not because of yourself, but because of your children, you do not want them to grow up in such environment, you realize that they’ll never see the things you saw: green trees, blue skies, pure water. They will not understand what the fresh air means, they will hardly believe in story about fish in the sea, birds in the sky. But, maybe you will not even wish to tell them what you saw, because you are sure they will probably ask: “So what happened, why everything turned to be so bad, who is guilty?” And it will be difficult to explain them that these are people have destroyed their own lives.We all are living on one planet, Who will save it for our children, for new generation if we don’t?

Azerbaijan has the reputation of being an environmental disaster zone. Many scientists consider Apsheron Peninsula, where 50% of Azerbaijanis live, to be the most ecologically devastated area in the world because of severe air, water and soil pollution.

The objective of this paper is to present a brief review related to the pollution in Azerbaijan, in particular in Baku and Sumgait cities, historical development of oil sector and exploration of oil and gas deposits in the country and its influence on environmental situation, history of water, air and ground pollution in Azerbaijan.

To achieve the proposed objective, the first chapter of the paper presents the country profile and oil sector development history as well as present production situation. The second chapter covers issues of history of pollution in Baku and the related factors contributed to that as industrial development, decades of lack of sustainable environmental policy. Divided into subchapters it gives more comprehensive detailed analysis of environmental concerns in Azerbaijan.

At the end of this document, a brief conclusion about this topic is presented as well as the bibliographical sources used to prepare the respective presentation and paper on the subject of history of environment.


Geographical location of Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is a lower middle-income country with a gross national income per capita of $1,240 in 2005. Territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan is 86,6 thousand square kilometres. Azerbaijan has common boundaries with: Iran in the south along the perimeter 765 km, with Turkey – 15 km, with Russia in the north – 390 km, with Armenia in the west 1007 km. The length of the coastal line is 713 km. Azerbaijanis situated in the eastern part of the South Caucasus on the Caspian Sea shore and covers an area of 86.6 thousand km2. Capital of Azerbaijan is Baku city.

General facts on the country.

Population of the Republic of Azerbaijan – 8 million and 593 thousand people (for 01.01.2007). The age-composition of the population comprises the following age-classes: people of 0-14 years of age make up 26% of the population, 15-64 years-67%, 65 and above-for 7%. Young people of 18-34 years of age make up 29% of the population with the half of them living in big cities.

Country Statistical Profile


Population, total (millions)


Population growth (annual %)


Life expectancy at birth, female (years)


Life expectancy at birth, male (years)


GDP (current US$) (billions)


GDP growth (annual %)


GNI, Atlas method (current US$) (billions)


Inflation, consumer prices (annual %)


Foreign direct investment, net inflows (% of GDP)


Time required to start a business (days)


Internet users (per 100 people)


Source: www.world.bank.org

Azerbaijan is rich in mineral resources, mainly oil and natural gas but also in iron ore, nonferrous metals, bauxite. The country also has agricultural land and a well-educated labour force with a strong entrepreneurial tradition. Despite the country’s natural resources, poverty continues to pose a major challenge for Azerbaijan. In 2005 29% of the population lived in poverty and 8% in extreme poverty.

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Azerbaijan has had high economic growth in 2006 and 2007 that was due to large and growing oil exports. The oil and gas sector contributes approximately 1/3 of GDP, while agriculture contributes about 9%. The impressive GDP growth of the past five years – with an average annual growth rate of 12% – was led mainly by oil and gas production. Oil production is expected to peak in 2011 and decline thereafter in the absence of major new discoveries.

Azerbaijan shares all the problems of the former Soviet republics in making the transition from a command to a market economy, but its considerable energy resources brighten its long-term prospects. Several other obstacles slow down Azerbaijan’s economic progress: the need for stepped up foreign investment in the non-energy sector, the continuing conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, pervasive corruption, and elevated inflation. Trade with Russia and the other former Soviet republics is declining, while trade is building with Turkey and the nations of Europe. Long-term prospects will depend on world oil prices, the location of new oil and gas pipelines in the region, and Azerbaijan’s ability to manage its energy wealth.

1.3. History of Oil boom in Azerbaijan

Information on oil production in Azerbaijan was repeatedly mentioned in the manuscripts of scientists and travelers in the Middle Ages and it was noted that such an uncommon product would generate a significant income.

Arabian historian Masudi Abdul Huseyn (9th century) mentioned in his manuscripts that there were two main sources of Black oil and white oil (kerosene) on Apsheron

Marco Polo (13-14th century) wrote in his travel notes that Apsheron peninsula was dotted with oil wells and the oil extracted used for lighting and for heating purposes.

Engelbert Kaempfer (15th century) – oil was transported via wineskins on four-wheeled carts to Shamakhi and Baku. From Shamakhi it is taken across country on camels. From Baku it is taken by sea to other regions

Turkish traveler Ortakoy (17th century) – The area around Baku has a “burning ground. The ground is hot from the burning fuel beneath it.”

Early views of Baku and first drilling methods

Early oil extraction methods were very primitive – mainly hand dug wells drilled to very shallow depths (2-3 meters). Overall In 1813, 136 wells were drilled in Absheron which produced total volume of only 64 barrels of oil per day. In 1825, oil was produced on the Absheron peninsular in all suborns of Baku. But it should be stressed out that much of early oil production was wasted in blowout gushers and this was a very uneconomical and environmentally harmful process. Workers were dying because of the gushers. The strong gushers were flooding the houses in the nearest villages. Oil from wells was lost for nothing because of oil gushers.

In 1844 in Baku, more than a decade earlier than the oil well in Pennsylvania (USA, 1859), V. Semyonov, the Baku mining engineer, drilled a well 21 m deep using primitive percussion method in the settlement of Bibi-Heybat near Baku. This is considered the starting point of industrial oil extraction in Azerbaijan and in the whole world. The first oil refinery was built in 1859 in Baku.

In 1878 the first oil pipeline in the world was constructed between oil fields in Balakhany and the oil refinery in Baku. The length of pipeline was 12 km. 1896-1906 – the construction of Baku-Batumi (Georgia) pipeline carrying 900 thousand tons of oil per year. The Nobel Brothers were major contributors to oil transport, who built the world’s first oil carrying steamship, named “Zoroaster” in 1878 and constructed the first rail tanks for transporting oil in 1883 from Baku to Astrakhan (Russia).

By 1900, Azerbaijan was producing more than ten million tons of oil each year which was more than half of the world’s oil supply. Oil boom also influenced on the other sectors and Azerbaijan benefited from the expertise of well known chemists and geologists from the whole world such as the Russian chemist D. Mendeleyev, creator of the periodic table of chemical elements. As a result, innovative new techniques such as rotary drilling and gas lift were tested for the first time in Azerbaijan.

The Nobel Brothers oil wells in Baku’s suburb

Oil boom have had very negative affect as well, particularly on ecological situation in Azerbaijan: oil wells in the vicinity of Baku were pumping oil into reservoir lakes. The ecological disaster started 100 years ago still plagues the region.

1.4. Current oil production in Azerbaijan.

The oil and gas industries are the basis of the economy of Azerbaijan. Since World War II, the republic not only fully provided itself with oil and oil products but also supplied the majority of oil and oil products to other republics of the former Soviet Union. Azerbaijan’s sharp economic decline in the first half of the 1990s has reversed and the economy has been growing since 1996. After gaining independence in1992 Azerbaijan started to attract badly needed foreign investment into the country. The implementation of the 20 production-sharing arrangements Contracts (requiring $60 billion investment) that have been concluded so far is an integral part of Azerbaijan’s oil strategy. Azerbaijan’s oil production declined through 1997, but has registered an increase every year since. Oil production under the first of the Contracts, with the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, began in November 1997. A consortium of Western oil companies began pumping 1 million barrels a day from a large offshore field in early 2006, through a $4 billion pipeline it built from Baku to Turkey’s port of Ceyhan. By 2010 revenues from this project will double the country’s current GDP. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was officially opened in July 13, 2006 and now transports crude oil 1,760 km (1,094 miles) from the Azer-Chiraq-Guneshli oil field (Baku suburb) in the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. It is the second longest oil pipeline in the world (the longest being the Druzhba from Russia to central Europe).

According to State Statistical Committee of Azerbaijan Republic, the current oil production is the following:

Oil – production:

934,700 bbl/day (2007 est.)

Oil – consumption:

160,000 bbl/day (2007 est.)

Oil – exports:

795,600 bbl/day (2007 est.)

Oil – imports:

3,924 bbl/day (2004)

Oil – proved reserves:

7 billion bbl (17 April 2007 est.)

Source: www.azstat.org


2.1. History of pollution in Baku and Sumgait

In environmental terms, the long history of oil exploration (supplemented during the Soviet days by the petrochemical industry) has left the country with a massive legacy of oil and other chemical pollution, both land-based and offshore. Environmental deterioration is widespread in Azerbaijan. The country faces numerous problems related to air and water quality, land and biodiversity, lowering levels of the Caspian Sea, outdated and polluting industries, and oil field spills. The Government recognizes the need to address environmental problems to sustain economic development and a poverty reduction effort however much remains to be done to improve the country’s environment, particularly in urban areas. ( Baku onshore oil fields. Oil workers work in 24

hour shifts.)

Starting from Soviet time economic development of Azerbaijan is concentrated mainly in the coastal areas – on the Absheron Peninsula, between the contaminated sections of Baku’s districts and the industrial city of Sumgait. These cities were considered the most polluted cities in Soviet Union. Azerbaijan was producing oil not only for itself but also to the all Soviet union Republic and decades of lack of sustainable environmental policy and unsustainable oil production starting from Soviet time till now, left behind huge wastelands with standing oil ponds and severely contaminated soil. Industrial development and mobile sources of fuel combustion have released high concentrations of heavy metals and other toxic and hazardous elements into air, land and water. As a result, urban areas, such as Baku and Sumgait, became classic examples of environmental hot spots.

This pool on the edge of town is evidence of the oil pollution in Baku.

The transition period (after collapse of Soviet Union) economic output has declined dramatically and industrial and agricultural decline reduced air pollution, industrial water discharges and pollution from agrochemicals. But starting from 1996 the economy began to grow up in a rapid way. In common with other newly independent states, Azerbaijan is an urbanized society (urban population around 55% of the total). The Absheron Peninsula, with Baku and Sumgait, accounts for 50% of the country’s population and is a home to more than 80 big, 370 medium-sized, and 2000 small industrial enterprises. The upsurge of foreign investment in the oil and gas sector since 1996 has further underlined the economic dominance of the coastal area and the Absheron Peninsula in particular. Vehicles emissions significantly increased over the last decade (because of high economic growth) and became a leading source of unchecked air-pollution. Baku-Ceyhan pipeline will also contribute to air pollution because of increased oil production and lack of attention to modernization of oil industry from environmental management perspective.

Currently, Azerbaijan achieved

Rigs outside the Baku city center, near Ramana

significant progress in updating its environmental legislation, build partnership with international agencies and organizations addressing environmental issues, work on capacity development, etc., but the accumulation of toxic industrial waste, waste metals, pesticides residues, and oil pollution represents substantial and unresolved environmental problems.

Government of Azerbaijan with the support of international experts developed the National Environment Action Plan identifying four priority categories for Azerbaijan:

pollution from industrial production: oil exploration and production; energy; transport; other sources

Caspian Sea

Forestry, land an biodiversity

Institutional development

According to Caspian Envoriment Program, the major polluting industrial sectors identified in the Caspian Region are the following:


Industrial Sectors


Power Plants

Petrochemical Industry

Inorganic Chemical Industry

Organic Chemical Industry


Power Plants


Oil & Gas Exploitation

Metal Works



Absheron Peninsula/Azerbaijan


Meat Processing

Oil & Gas Exploitation

Northern Azerbaijan


Fruit & Vegetable Processing

Southern Azerbaijan

Fish Processing

Fruit & Vegetable processing

Source: http://www.caspianenvironment.org/newsite/index.htm

For more comprehensive understanding of the environmental concerns in Baku, I will proceed with more detailed analysis on water, air and ground pollution in the next sub-chapters.

2.2. Water Pollution.

2.2.1. Availability of water resources.

Azerbaijan has limited water resources- only 30% of river flow resources are formed within the country – Apsheron Peninsula is one of the least water resources per capita and per unit area. Azerbaijan is almost entirely depends on Kur-Araz river basin originates in north-astern Turkey, passes through Georgia and flows into the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan. The water is used for agricultural, domestic, and industrial purposes, and for hydropower generation and recreation. The problems in the basin are related to both quantity and quality of water. Water shortage is acute because rainfall declines sharply from west to east across the basin. Drought periods in the basin are very common.

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Other rivers formed from rain and snow start in mountains very often do not have permanent river beds. Undergrounds water resources make up about 25% of the river flow and have potential for future use, but currently provide only 5% of water abstraction. Piped drinking water reaches 50-95% of the urban population and to some estimates, safe drinking water is available to less tan 50% of urban residents.

Baku and Sumgayit, and about 75 other cities receive centralized water supply. “Norm” of daily water consumption for Baku citizen is about 400-580 litres that is very high in comparison with other countries but the water is undrinkable (recommended to drink only after boiled) and provided in accordance with time schedule.

Pollution of water resources

Water quality is one of the major environmental concerns. Surface and underground water are polluted by untreated municipal and industrial wastewater and agricultural run-off. Kur-Araz river basin is heavily polluted by neighbouring countries- Georgia and Armenia – about 40,000 tons of nutrients released each year before crossing the Azerbaijan border. As an example, on the Azerbaijan side of the border with Georgia in 1992-1994, average annual concentrations of phenols and oil products exceeded existing water quality standards by about 14 and 3 times respectively. Surface water and groundwater are polluted from a) oil spillage, linkage from pipelines, storage tanks, resulting in contamination of petroleum hydrocarbons and heavy metals; b)pesticides from agriculture; c)factory wastes dumped into rivers; salinization of the water due to the Caspian sea water intrusion(raise of level of Caspian sea). Government estimates that 80% of country population uses water from Kur-Araz river basin for drinking purposes that does not meet Azerbaijanis’ drinking water standards even after water treatment.

Wastewater management and Policy measures/ Institutional responsibilities

During the Soviet Union period, large volumes of effluents were discharged into receiving water bodies on the territory of Azerbaijan. Both domestic and industrial wastewater has been discharged into nearby reservoirs without proper treatment, if any.

Existing Baku wastewater network, in operation for 100 years, does not have the capacity today for adequate and safe operations. Total wastewater collected in Baku is reported to be 1,3 -1,4 million m3/day. 30,000 m3/day of untreated municipal wastewater is discharged into the Caspian Sea. However only 50% of collected wastewater undergoes treatment and more that 40% of the housing districts not connected. Thus, this figure should be 10 times higher. In addition, of more that 40 oil industrial companies operating in Baku and Sumgait, treatment facilities in only 7 are considered to be functioning reasonably well and, as a result, untreated wastewater form oil fields and other polluting industries is mixed with municipal wastewater.

The following measures have bee taken by the government to address the water pollution concern:

Adoption of Water Code – 1998;

Law on water supply and waste water – 2000;

Law on amelioration and irrigation – 1996;

Law on environmental protection -1999

Gaps to be further addressed:

Lack of national water protection strategy;

integration of river basin management approach rather that administrative units approach;

lack of institutional capacity of Ministry of Ecology and National Resources and other state bodies

Air Pollution

Industrialization and urbanization over 30 the past 35 years have resulted in significant deterioration of ambient air quality in urban areas. Currently, the major pollution in Baku and Sumgait is from motor vehicles; oil and gas industries; chemical steel; and power plants; and small and medium-size enterprises. According to data, 96% of the atmospheric pollution emissions are concentrated in 5 main cities of Azerbaijan with the most of air emission in Baku.

2.3.1. Sources and trends of air pollution

Mobile sources. Currently, transport is considered to be the main source of air pollution, responsible for increase in NOx, organic chemical, and CO emissions. Historically, the proportion of emissions from transport in Azerbaijan was 30-40%. Because of economic raise number of vehicles is steadily increasing, but the problem is increase in numbers of poorly maintained old vehicles using low-quality fuel. More than 90% of all vehicles are more than 5- years old (foreign models, mostly used cars), and the average age of vehicles is around 15 years.

In addition, system of vehicles inspection for checking vehicles emissions (qualified staff, technical equipment; lack of finance; law salary of inspectors) is very poor. Heavy traffic; bad road conditions; lack of bypasses in most cities also contribute to increased vehicle emissions.

Stationary Sources. Currently the primary source of atmospheric pollution from

Stationary sources are the release of associated gases by power plants, burning of untreated garbage; oil refineries, and factories in Sumgait. In Baku, emission of industrial pollutant unrelated to oil industry is relatively small with exception of releases of chlorofluorides from air conditioners; refrigeration industries; and cement production.

Source: www.azstat.org

Air Pollution: Trends in Air Quality. In general, the ambient air quality in Azerbaijan has improved in recent years as a consequence of the sharp decrease in air emissions from stationary sources. However, urban air pollution remains a matter of ongoing concern. Air quality data in Azerbaijan is collected by the Monitoring department of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources. According to official data, the air pollution emissions peaked in 1991 – 2,1 million tons; and is declining since that time (about 0,4 mln – 0,2 mln tons) . In spite of lowered total emissions, air pollution is still perceived as critical. Annual air concentration level of soot in Baku is 3-5 times higher (depending on the source of information) that World Health Organization standards (60-90 μg/m3). Current and projected economic growths will further cause unsustainable deterioration of urban air quality because of lack of monitoring and control equipment

Air Pollution: Policy measures/ Institutional responsibilities

The following measures have bee taken by the government to address the air pollution concern:

Law on Environmental protections – 1999;

Law on Air Protection – 2001;

National programmes on adjustment of standards form GOST to WHO international standards;

Law on Hydromethereological activity – 1998 (hydrometehrological measurements and environmental monitoring).

Ratification by Azerbaijan UN Framework Convention on climate change in 1995 and Kyoto Protocol to the Convention in 2000 and Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1996

Gaps to be further addressed:

Lack of institutional capacity of Ministry of Ecology and National Resources and other state bodies on adjustment to international standards

Lack trained of staff;

budget limitations;

poor monitoring;

symbolic penalties for violators, poor technology

Lack of National Strategy addressing air pollution with concrete measures assign

2.4. Ground Pollution

Solid Industrial and Hazardous Wastes

During the Soviet period mostly heavy and chemical industry, including gas and oil, ferrous, chemical, machinery, as well as food and light industries-produced high volumes of solid industrial and hazardous wastes. At present, oil production, chemical and mineral resources extraction and processing, power plants, and hospitals are the major generators of solid and hazardous wastes. Particularly acute is the problem of the management of waste accumulated over decades of environmentally unsustainable development, as well as of newly accumulated waste. Known hazardous waste disposal sites are overloaded and not adequately sealed. There are no financial or institutional mechanisms to properly arrange for new sites. Solid pollution directly affects human heath via groundwater pollution, food contamination through vegetables and other crops grown in urban and per-urban areas.

Soil pollution. As it was mentioned above, Azerbaijan signed an agreement with approximately 30 oil companies from 15 countries requiring that oil exploration and drilling should be according to international environmental standards, that are not fulfilled in most cases and oil-containing products are found both on legal and illegal dump sites with no protection. Unfortunately during soviet time, most of the industrial activities have focused in Sumgait and Baku that

( view from top of the center of Baku to Bail) resulted that exactly that are become most polluted. Baku area- Apsheron Penninsula soil is known for having them most acute oil degradation with more that 10,000 hectares of land heavily contaminated. Copper, lead and zinc mines are the main sources of heavy-metal soil pollution. Steel plants produce dust containing 15-30% zinc, 3-5% lead, 0,1% cadmium. [1] In some areas of Baku average concentrations of zinc in soils are up to 50-60 times the acceptable levels.

Radioactive waste. The issues of radioactive waste are related to oil drilling and processing operations. Radio nuclides of natural Radium and Thorium that are present in rocks and gases are brought to the surface when water is pumped into the pipes to maintain steady flow. That’s why the radioactive contamination is focused near the oil fields. But there are also other sources of radioactive wastes – research and medical institution concentrated mainly in capital – Baku. Though there is the special isolated facility – IZOTOP located 37 km from Baku for radioactive waste, statistical data for groundwater in Baku give the following figures: Radium – 226, Thorium – 228. [2] 

Municipal waste. Obviously, population growths in Baku and urbanization have resulted in increased generation of municipal waste. Solid municipal waste contains up to 35% food waste; 20-40% – paper; 3-5% – wood; 4-5% – textile fabrics; 4-5% – glass breakage; 1-2% – metals; and up to 10% – polymeric materials, though the share of paper and polymeric materials has been increasing. [3] In most European countries waste separation and recycling in applied but in Azerbaijan no waste separation and recycling is used: about 2% of waste – burnt; 1,5% – processed, and the left are disposed at municipal waste landfills that are overloaded and do not meet minimum health and environmental requirements. Absence of environmentally controlled landfills leads to:

Risk of soil and groundwater contamination with heavy metals, toxics;

Risk of dissemination of products containing heavy metals and toxics;

Places for stray dogs, insects, rats, spreading infections;

Smoke from burning wastes polluting the air

2.4.2. Solid Waste: Policy measures/ Institutional responsibilities

The following measures have bee taken by the government to address the solid waste issues:

Law on Industrial and Municipal waste – in 1998;

Hazardous Waste Management Agency established in 2003;

National strategy on Hazardous Waste Management Agency (with WB support);

Training programmes for national staff on radioactive waste management and computerized registry of radioactive materials by International Atomic Energy Agency; upgrade of IZOTOP facility;

Development of criteria for rehabilitation of contaminated cites and national programme on rehabilitation of some oil-contaminated lands;

National plan developed to address creation of new waste landfills; sorting disposal, recycling of waste; introduction of methods to generate biogas from municipal waste.

Gaps to be further addressed: Plans and strategies are in place but not effectively implemented because of beuroctratic procedures and lack of financing the sector.

Water level and Coastline of the Caspian Sea

Caspian Sea is unique closed water basin, plays the important role in the establishment of the climate in the region, and has rich stocks of rare kinds of fishes, energy-carriers and large potential for development of sea transport. Disturbing the ecological condition of Caspian sea, caused by its pollution by industrial, agricultural and municipal wastes, offshore and coastal production of oil and gas, shipping company and other circumstances, have caused degradation its biodiversity, exhaust of fish resources, have increased fluctuations of the sea level, that has resulted to have fires of inhabited files and industrial infrastructures. The ecological problems of Caspian Sea can be divided into 3 types: Chemical pollution by the running rivers; Ecological problems, connected to the rise of the level of water; offshore oil industry.

The variation of the Caspian Sea water level is a serious specific problem for the country that brings to economic, ecological, and social challenges. During 1927-1977, the surface area of the sea decreased from 425,000 km2 to 370,000 km2, which led to increasing development of the coastal ( Sea side, walking area called Bakinskiy Bulvar)

territories and the construction of coast-protecting dams, channels, and roads, based on forecasts of further decreases in sea level. A reversal began in 1978 and during 1978- 1995, Caspian sea level rose by 2.3 m to -26.5 m. The new rise has caused extreme erosion of coastal areas, destruction of construction and engineering facilities, and inundation of vast areas. Scientists predict a further increase in sea level of 1.5-2.5 m by 2010 however the Government is not taking action to mitigate the consequences of sea level variation. In this regard, the most severe environmental effects of the rise in the Caspian water level are associated with secondary pollution of the sea from oil fields and possibly some industrial plants, either through direct flooding or rise in groundwater levels.

Health Effects of environmental conditions

Numbers of studies show the link between haz


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