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This is my third diary on the issue of rubber mulch, which has become part of the White House playscape, where Sasha and Malia Obama and their friends play.

Their playground surface was made from 1,400 used tires.  The tires were ground up and dyed green and called rubber mulch.

Rubber mulch is not good for children or gardens because ground up rubber tires have lots of toxins in them.

Environment and Human Health, Inc.'s (EHHI) President Nancy Alderman has written an opinion piece which appeared yesterday (Sunday, April 12, 2009) in the New Haven Register.

I am posting part of the article and the link (above) in the hope that White House spokesperson Camille Johnston presents the information to the Obamas so they can make an informed decision about what Sasha and Malia and their friends are playing on.

It's not enough that the White House checked with the rubber industry, who of course claim their product is safe.  Sasha and Malia's parents should find out what is bothering independent scientists like the ones at EHHI about the use of shredded rubber tires where children play.

From Toxic mulch means White House play area not fun and games by Nancy Alderman -

First of all, ground up rubber tires are filled with a number of toxic chemicals and these chemicals are capable of leaching out of the tires. Secondly, the rubber absorbs heat and gets very hot in the warmer months. Temperatures have been measured at many times hotter than the grass around the rubber tire material. Some people have measured synthetic turf fields with ground-up rubber tires at 161 degrees when the outdoor temperature was 91 degrees. At the same time, a parking lot was measured at 111 degrees.

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven has analyzed a sample of ground-up rubber tires and found major toxic compounds. One is a skin and eye irritant, one is a recognized carcinogen and another is harmful to mucous membranes.

Other well-known chemicals that are often found in rubber tires include benzene, which is a carcinogen; phthalates, which are suspected to cause harm to reproductive systems; and latex, which can cause allergic reactions in some people.

I have also written to Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.

Alice forged the local/organic food movement in the United States.  She advocated for an organic garden at the White House, which Michelle Obama planted with children last week.

It is incongruous that Mrs. Obama's children play on rubber mulch, even as their organic garden grows nearby.

Here is the text of my letter to Ms. Waters:

Dear Ms. Waters:

I was moved to see that Michelle Obama planted an organic garden at the White House last week.  You were featured in the coverage of that event.  I have no doubt you are primarily responsible for this important example set by our First Family to the American people that eating good food, home grown without the use of chemicals, is important to our health and crucial for the environment.

I am a U.C. Berkeley graduate.  Some of my fondest memories of my years at Berkeley are of eating several meals (small ones because of financial constraints) at Chez Panisse.  This was back in 1978 through 1980, when it was still possible to consider your restaurant a wonderful neighborhood surprise and when we could sometimes come in late in the evening to sit and savor a salad and dessert.  The boyfriend who introduced me to your food, who was otherwise something of a jerk, will remain with love in my heart for the meals I shared with him at your place.  I am now a mother of three children, living in Connecticut.

These memories and the footage of how moved you were that there was an organic garden at the White House have compelled me to write this letter to you in the human hope that you may actually be able to reach out to Michelle Obama with information about the playground mulch made of shredded rubber tires that has been installed in the White House playground, where Sasha and Malia and their friends play.

I became educated about products made from shredded rubber tires when my own son, Liam, came home from school one day in the spring of 2007, sporting small black pellets on his skin and clothing.  These pellets were crumb rubber that was used as infill on the synthetic turf playing field where he played soccer during his physical education class.  I had just read an article in my local newspaper that New Jersey scientists had found PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic) in crumb rubber tested in their lab.  I was so disturbed about what I’d read and what I’d seen on my son that I contacted a Connecticut environmental education and advocacy group called Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI).  I asked them some questions.  As a result of my questions and those of another mother in Westport, EHHI launched an investigation into crumb rubber infill and rubber mulch.

While it may seem "green" to use recycled tires as a cushion for the White House playground, in fact, children shouldn’t be exposed to shredded rubber because of the hazard it may pose to their health.  I believe that this use of rubber where their daughters are playing is inconsistent with the Obamas’ publicly stated concern and regard for the environment and its impact on human health.  I also believe they wouldn’t want Sasha and Malia exposed to the stuff if they knew what I know about it.

This decision for the White House playground surface is not under review even though EHHI has reached out to the White House with information about on-going studies.  EHHI is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to protecting human health from environmental harms through research, education and the promotion of sound public policy.  The group is made up of doctors, public health professionals and policy experts committed to the reduction of environmental health risks to individuals.

I have written the White House, too.  I am enclosing a Chicago Tribune article that quotes the First Lady’s Communications Director as saying that the rubber mulch stays on the Obama children’s playground.  I don’t feel that an issue pertaining to Sasha and Malia’s health is best left to an expert in communications.  Their parents should be allowed to make this decision for their children, informing themselves adequately on the concerns being presented by independent scientists and not simply relying on the word of the rubber industry that their unregulated product is safe.

This material is not mulch at all.  It consists primarily of rubber tires that have been shredded and dyed.  Rubber mulch, along with shredded rubber in the forms of crumb rubber infill and chunk rubber (different consistencies for different uses) is being used on artificial playing fields, in natural grass athletic fields, in playgrounds, gardens, lawns, and agricultural fields all over the globe.  These uses of recycled rubber tires have been developed by the Rubber Manufacturing Association, in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency, to dispose of the hundreds of millions of rubber tires produced every year, everywhere.  In the United States, roughly one tire per person per year must be disposed of – that’s about 300 million tires we must get rid of every year here in the U.S.  We can’t landfill these tires in most states without treating them as "special waste."  Unfortunately, because of a reinterpretation of the Clean Air Act in the 1990’s,  these tires are being dumped not in landfills but in our communities – shredded and spread where human beings live, play, and grow their food.

I don’t know if you’ve read anything about the emerging health concerns pertaining to this shred and spread scheme, made public in the recent past and presently by independent scientists, environmental groups, and worried parents.  The matter may well interest you as it pertains to the use of rubber mulch in gardens, yards, and farms, as well as where children play.

The use of rubber mulch where food grows is the ANTITHESIS of what you stand for and what you’ve worked so hard to do.

For more information about the investigation being done in Connecticut, please visit  I am sure that Nancy Alderman, the President of EHHI, would be glad to talk to you or Michelle Obama to define the health concerns that her group has helped uncover.  I have enclosed EHHI’s list of chemicals of concern in recycled rubber products.

I’ve also attached a recent letter written by Dr. Philip Landrigan that was published in the New York/tri-state area.  The letter expresses his informed scientific opinion regarding synthetic turf fields, including his concern about crumb rubber infill as part of these fields.  Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., M.Sc., the Ethel Wise Professor and Chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, is a pediatrician, epidemiologist, and internationally recognized leader in public health and preventive medicine. He has been a member of the faculty of Mount Sinai School of Medicine since 1985 and Chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine since 1990. Dr. Landrigan is also the Director of the Children's Environmental Health Center.

I have included Nancy Alderman’s contact information at the bottom of this letter.  I hope you will contact her, hear the information she can give you, and act as a trusted liaison in this matter between Nancy and Michelle Obama.  I trust your moral compass because of your public advocacy for human health and the environment.  

My feelings for my own children and their friends are extended to our First Family in that I abhor the idea that the Obama children risk exposure to something that may hurt them while they play, especially when it is so easy to avoid such harm.


Patricia Taylor

Link to Chicago Tribune article mentioned in my letter above.


According to Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), a Connecticut advocacy and education group made up of scientists, doctors, and former public health officials, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has analyzed  a sample of ground-up rubber tires and found:

Benzothiazole: Skin and eye irritation, harmful if swallowed. There is no available data on cancer, mutagenic toxicity, teratogenic toxicity, or developmental toxicity.

Butylated hydroxyanisole: Recognized carcinogen, suspected endocrine toxicant, gastrointestinal toxicant, immunotoxicant (adverse effects on the immune system), neurotoxicant (adverse effects on the nervous system), skin and sense-organ toxicant. There is no available data on cancer, mutagenic toxicity, teratogenic toxicity, or developmental toxicity.

n-hexadecane: Severe irritant based on human and animal studies. There is no available data on cancer, mutagenic toxicity, teratogenic toxicity, or developmental toxicity.

4-(t-octyl) phenol: Corrosive and destructive to mucous membranes. There is no available data on cancer, mutagenic toxicity, teratogenic toxicity, or developmental toxicity.

Zinc: There is a very large amount of zinc that is added in the manufacturing of tires and therefore there is a great deal of zinc.

Other chemicals that are often found in rubber tires are:

Benzene: Carcinogen, Developmental Toxicant, Reproductive Toxicant

Phthalates: Suspected Developmental Toxicant, Endocrine Toxicant, Reproductive Toxicant

PAHs: Suspected Cardiovascular or Blood Toxicant, Gastrointestinal or Liver Toxicant, Reproductive Toxicant, Respiratory Toxicant  

Manganese: Gastrointestinal or liver toxicants

Carbon Black: Carcinogen

Latex: Causes allergic reactions in some people


The Journal News, Letter to the Editor

Artificial turf fields pose safety issues

• December 11, 2008

Artificial turf fields pose safety issues

I urge the Irvington school district not to adopt the use of artificial turf until further examination.

There are several hundred artificial turf fields on the East Coast. Towns and school districts installed them to improve the quality of playing fields and accommodate sports programs. However, they were pursued without analysis of potential negative consequences. A number of these very expensive fields have been installed and we are suddenly, and belatedly, beginning to realize they may lead to health problems, such as:

  1. Extreme heat. On hot summer days, temperatures of over 130 degrees Fahrenheit have been recorded a few feet above the surface of synthetic turf fields - the altitude where children play. Vigorous play in these conditions conveys a very real risk of heat stress or heat stroke.
  1. MRSA skin infections. Outbreaks of skin infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus have been documented in children who play on synthetic turf fields (New England Journal of Medicine, February 2005).
  1. Chemical hazards to human health and the environment. Crumb rubber, a major component of current generation synthetic turf fields, is typically made from ground-up recycled tires containing styrene and 1, 3-butadiene, the major constituents of synthetic rubber. Styrene is toxic to the nervous system, and butadiene is a proven human carcinogen.

Lead was recently found in synthetic turf fields in New Jersey at levels so high that several fields were closed by the state Health Department. Citizens and school boards should question the wisdom of installing synthetic turf until a credible independent study has been conducted and published.

Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., M.Sc
The writer is professor of pediatrics and director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Originally posted to Patricia Taylor on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 10:31 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Pat, this is becoming spam. (5+ / 0-)

    I get that you are passionate about this, but I would have to say that of all the parents that might be aware of these kinds of concerns the Obama's are like to be one set.

    In the end it is their choice.

    Getting Dems together and keeping them that way is like trying to herd cats, hopped up on crank, through LA, during an earthquake, in the rain. -6.25, -6.10

    by Something the Dog Said on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 10:38:47 AM PDT

    •  oh come on (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      your subject is an insult

      your comment body is fine - but why the insulting subject?

    •  I'm usually in sync with (8+ / 0-)

      you, Dog, but this time, I'll side with Pat.  She's passionate about this issue because the science is not in yet and even if it is just the two Obama girls, that is two children too many to be exposed.

      As I stated below, I probably know tire issues more than most people on this site.  I have defended against restrictions in recycled uses.  I'm coming down on the side of caution as opposed to "we don't have hard evidence yet."  

      I prefer this diary to the umpteen teabagging obsession diaries.

      Smooches, anyway.

      I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution. -- Barbara Jordan, 1974

      by gchaucer2 on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 10:45:54 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I gave her a tip. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gchaucer2, MKinTN

        I also read it. I guess what I hope is that she writes something more than just this. There is a ton of stuff that can be discussed and brought out for education purposes, without making it about the presidents daughters. One time to get the issue visibility, sure but three times is kind of reaching the edge

        Still, if we can't disagree, then we become Red State, so I don't take your heinous betrayal personally...;~)

        Getting Dems together and keeping them that way is like trying to herd cats, hopped up on crank, through LA, during an earthquake, in the rain. -6.25, -6.10

        by Something the Dog Said on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 10:48:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There is a general topic (4+ / 0-)

          which can be discussed that doesn't include just Obama's children -- and the other children using the playground.  Artificial surfaces in general have negative health effects.

          Way back in the early '90s I wrote a paper for an environmental risk class on sports -- part of it addressed astroturf and the cluster cancers at the Meadowlands.  Astroturf is particularly nasty because it breeds bacteria which infects scrape wounds.  The Meadowlands was built over a dump.  

          I know this is Pat's bugbear -- and Malia and Sasha are high profile children.  I do think the issue of crumbled or shredded tires should be expanded because of its use on running tracks and other playgrounds.

          Another smooch because you are such a good Dog.

          I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution. -- Barbara Jordan, 1974

          by gchaucer2 on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 10:53:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Moreover, it's misleading (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JayBat, Fabian, Dar Nirron

      The diarist has made incorrect claims in previous diaries that waste tires are hazardous waste (they're not).  She has implied that constituents detected in laboratory analysis are biologically available when used as playground surfaces, apparently unaware that laboratory analysis for semivolatile organic compounds such as phthalates requires extraction with an organic solvent (methylene chloride) and analysis for metals such as lead and manganese requires digestion in hot, concentrated nitric acid.  

      I can't quite tell if the diarist's intentions toward protecting children are genuine or if she is simply an alarmist trying to mislead the gullible because of some vendetta.  

      As these diaries continue to scroll by, I'm starting to think it's the latter.

      •  I think I read in Pat's (3+ / 0-)

        last diary is that the designation of tires is different from state to state.  E.g.  in Connecticut, it is designated as a "special" waste.  We actually don't know what particulate matter is released and how it will effect human health when crumb tire is trounced on.

        I'm a tire recycling advocate, and yet do have questions about the use of this material in playgrounds or running tracks.  I have also indicated to Pat that I think the studies in CT may be biased against the recycling uses just because they have one major case that scares them about tires.

        I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution. -- Barbara Jordan, 1974

        by gchaucer2 on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 10:58:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Please See Nancy's Piece (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        regarding your claim that waste tires are not hazardous waste:

        THE Obamas recently installed a playscape for their children in the White House backyard. Whoever installed the playground covered the earth under the play equipment with used ground-up rubber tire mulch.

        A spokesperson for the White House, Camille Johnston, said they followed the recommendations of the National Recreation and Park Association when they chose and installed the rubber mulch. Johnston continued by saying,"the mulch is going to stay."

        Why is this a problem? In some states, rubber tires are a "hazardous waste" and in other states they are considered a "special waste." Whichever the case, used rubber tires are not a material that children should play on.

        In addition, I hope you take some time to review both the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Stations preliminary study done in August, 2007 and EHHI's report on that study and other previous work.

        The Ag Station was careful to mirror ambient field conditions in their lab study.

        In addition, fields closed or remediated in California, New York, and New Jersey were so done because of contamination found on the field.

        The current investigation in Connecticut is a field/lab study which will begin to address bioavailability of the contaminants we know are in crumb rubber taken from Connecticut fields.

        Bioavailability will be assessed in some future health survey of children being exposed NOW to these products.

        The proof will be in the harm done to children.

        If we cannot protect our children, what are we?

    •  Nancy Alderman's Opinion Piece (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Something the Dog Said

      is not spam.

      Neither is the Chicago Tribune article, nor Phil Landrigan's letter, nor Rachel List's article on the Crain Zhang study.

      I agree with you that it is each parent's choice on what their child's exposure might be.  Because it is just that, a CHOICE, it is important for parents to be well-informed.

      And that is why I am trying to get this information to the Obamas.

      •  Have you written to the First Lady? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        You are not going to get through to the President, he gets about 40K letters a week, but my understanding is that she gets a lot less and is reading at least some of them.

        If you address it to her, at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue it will at least get to her staff.

        As I said up thread, I think that your passion is great, it is your method that is a problem for me. But don't let that dissuade you from doing what you think is right. I will still come by and read it, even if I disagree or think you are just repeating yourself.


        Getting Dems together and keeping them that way is like trying to herd cats, hopped up on crank, through LA, during an earthquake, in the rain. -6.25, -6.10

        by Something the Dog Said on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 10:55:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I Have. (0+ / 0-)

          So has EHHI.

          I have received no response.

          The UPI/Tribune articles quote the First Lady's Communications Director.

          I have no knowledge that Sasha and Malia's parents have seen any information about recycled rubber.

          If this website is not available for the on-line dissemination of news on an emerging health issue that may affect the First Family, what is it appropriate for?

          It is always preferable and possible for readers to skip topic areas and diarists if what is written will annoy you.

          That's the beauty of on-line communication.

          Thanks for your comments.

          •  Well, this particular site has the goal of (0+ / 0-)

            electing more and better Democrats. It is in the FAQ.

            It is not pointed at the First Family, it is pointed at a Liberal/Progressive agenda. So, while your passion on this seems to fit in to the second it does not in the first.

            In any case, you will do what you think is right.


            Getting Dems together and keeping them that way is like trying to herd cats, hopped up on crank, through LA, during an earthquake, in the rain. -6.25, -6.10

            by Something the Dog Said on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 11:27:03 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Is It Not Part (0+ / 0-)

              of the Liberal/Progressive agenda to clean up our environment, protect the health of our citizens, work towards sustainable industry and society, and take care of each other?

              So, yes, on a macro level.

              More and better Democrats, yes.  Healthy ones.

              I cannot think of a liberal/progressive Democrat who would blindly submit to the word of corporate industry that a product is safe without regulations and proof that this is true.

              On a micro level, because I AM liberal/progressive and concerned about the health and well-being of my own children and their friends; because I AM aware of my connection to everyone else in terms of health and environment; because I believe that the health of children - especially of children like Sasha and Malia who are in a family that is consciously SERVING as a role model for all our families, in their home that is all our House - is ALL OUR CONCERN, each and every one of us; because of this, I am exponentially concerned for the health of Sasha and Malia, and the idea that the Obamas are making fully formed decisions about their health.

              What is micro is, after all, macro, and for all of us, isn't it?

              It's impossible to separate the politic from the personal, when you get to a certain level of thinking.

              I cannot protect my own children and myself without protecting the Obama children.

      •  If you are trying to get the information to (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Something the Dog Said, MKSinSA

        Mr. & Mrs. Obama, for pity's sake, here is the url for contacting the White House:

        There is a snail mail address, an e-mail fill-out form, and a telephone number.

        I'm sure there is someway to contact Sasha's and Malia's grandmother, but you can do your own research for that.

        To say my fate is not tied to your fate is like saying, "Your end of the boat is sinking."--Hugh Downs

        by Dar Nirron on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 11:09:04 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks for your comment. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          churchylafemme, MKSinSA

          I have written the Obamas via the link above.  I provided it in one of my diaries.

          I hope other parents will read about my concerns for the Obama children and that they will inform themselves, too.

          It's every child's right to be healthy.

          •  Yes. And as *I* said, not to have (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            brain damage from sudden impacts with hard ground.  And broken limbs.  Which are probably much more likely outcomes than the chemical exposures that you are talking about.

            To say my fate is not tied to your fate is like saying, "Your end of the boat is sinking."--Hugh Downs

            by Dar Nirron on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 11:26:16 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  My response to this would have been... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      geordie, Fabian

      If you think you can care for my children better than me, please, come take them off my hands. I'll have their stuff packed by the time you get here.

      As a matter of fact, that offer still stands...we've got two sets of tuition payments due to George Washington U beginning June 5. Bring your checkbook and my 23 and 17 year old sons are yours.

    •  I'll vote with the Dog: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Fabian, Dar Nirron

      Posting the same diary three times here doesn't increase the likelihood that it'll be seen by the Obamas.  Also, it sounds like the Obamas have gotten EHHI's message and are choosing to disregard it.  If there is news -- e.g., if you can prove that a child's illness is clearly caused by tires -- then that would be different, but posting the same diary several times isn't going to change anyone's mind.  I don't doubt your passion for the subject, and I don't opine on whether EHHI is right or wrong.

      BTW, I'm also sick of reading the umpteen teabagging diaries, and am looking forward to the day when teabagging simply refers to a way of brewing Darjeeling.

      Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, discussing outdoor adventures Tuesdays at 5 PM PDT

      by indigoblueskies on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 11:29:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Quite right (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JR, JayBat, Fabian, Dar Nirron, MKSinSA

    when I was a kid, it was either concrete or rocks & dirt, none of this fancy soft stuff.  And when you fell, you knew you were going to get abrasions that would get infected, that's why you got tetanus vaccinations.

  •  Thank you for your diligence (6+ / 0-)

    I believe I commented in one of your previous diaries.  I spent almost 15 years on issues related to recycling tires.  There are many safe uses, but there is also a question mark out there regarding the release of toxins from crumbled or shredded tires in areas of repeated impact such as the playground or track surfaces.  

    I was on the defense side of this issue, ergo, not one to come to your assistance lightly.  We are talking about an unknown exposure and children.  I err on the side of children's health.

    I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution. -- Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 10:42:50 AM PDT

  •  Chocoalate Mulch (0+ / 0-)

    I hope the Obama's do not get Choc. mulch for their garden.  It will poison their new doggie.  Why does the government let this type of mulch be sold??

    •  Heh! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dar Nirron, MKSinSA

      If you research poisonings by "chocolate mulch" you'll find a few confirmed cases.  A dog would have to eat a lot of mulch to do it.  Most dogs are smart enough NOT to eat mulch.  Some dogs are stupid enough to eat anything.

      Proud member of the Cult of Issues and Substance!

      by Fabian on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 11:31:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Asked and answered. (6+ / 0-)

    WH Response

    First lady spokeswoman, Camille Johnston, recently told press, “The mulch is going to stay,” in reference to the recent allegations by the organization Environment and Human Health, Inc., warning that the tire mulch resting underneath the White House playground equipment poses a health risk to Sasha and Malia.[snip]
    Rubberized artificial turf has been in use for a long time in many European countries, and so far there has been no conclusive evidence of any real danger. The Obama administration decision appears to be taking the stance that the green turf is generally safe. This is obviously the best choice, considering that any other course of action would only trigger a modest panic over the thousands of playgrounds recently having made the switch to recycled rubber, due to its claims of increased safety (flexible, splinter-free), durability, and green reusability.

    In the choice between changing ones mind and proving there's no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.

    by jsfox on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 10:51:52 AM PDT

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