Eco-friendly flame retardant materials: The latest

The need for flame retardant materials in the workplace has increased rapidly in recent years with the increased use of plastics, which are combustible and therefore hazardous around industrial machinery.

From smartphone and tablet production in the electronics industry to new energy efficiency measures in construction, employees are increasingly finding themselves working with flammable materials.

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It is unsurprising then that 2,600 fires were reported in UK industrial premises in 2012-2013, putting pressure on employers to protect their staff whilst working in these volatile conditions. But flame resistance is not the only concern. With growing opposition from environmental organisations to traditional brominated flame retardants, the need to be eco-friendly is becoming less of a choice and more an obligation.

What are the problems with Brominated Flame Retardants?

There have been numerous studies carried out into the health effects of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) on man and animals. One such study added a BFR (hexabromocyclododecane HBCD) to the food of Wistar rats causing accumulation in the liver, decreased bone mineral density, neurobehavioural problems and decreased weight of the testis in the males.

As a result of findings like this HBCD has been added to a list of substances targeted for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. These toxic substances are known to be highly persistent in the environment by accumulating in the food chain, which has now resulted in increased levels being found in human breast milk in the UK.

Alternative eco-friendly flame retardants

As a result of the toxic effects, regulations have tightened around the use of BFRs and the chemical industry has gone to great lengths to develop alternative eco-friendly flame retardants.

From initial research into phosphorous-based chemicals to nanomaterials, halogen-free flame retardants are rapidly increasing their market share. They do not accumulate in the food chain, have a low toxicity profile and will eventually mineralize in nature, posing no harm to the environment.

Phosphorus-based flame retardants

A variety of inorganic and organic compounds fall under this heading and can be reactive products, which are chemically bound into the polymer material, as well as additive products, which are mixed into the material. They can be used in a variety of applications including polyurethane foams, thermosets, standard and engineering plastics, coatings and textiles.

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The fire resistant properties of phosphorus have seen it widely used in the production of eco-friendly flame retardant fabrics. The reactive products are used in polyester fibres and also to form coatings for textiles with a wash-resistant flame retardant finish.

Nano-clay flame retardants

The fire resistant properties of clay are well known from its historical use as a roof tile, dramatically improving fire safety in homes. As a completely natural material, it also provides few environmental problems as it is easily disposed of, making it a perfect candidate for an eco-friendly flame retardant.

Clay naturally forms platelets which can be exfoliated and dispersed to separate the individual nanoscale layers bringing out the full extent of its flame resistant properties. These exfoliated platelets can then be added to a material slowing the spread of fire through the item as well as decreasing the spread to nearby objects due to reduced dripping.

Carbon nanotube flame retardants

Carbon Nanotubes reduce the heat released by burning materials and can be used in conjunction with nanoclay filler to produce flame retardants which are more effective than either of the components when used alone.

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Though highly effective, the cost of manufacturing carbon nanotubes is relatively high so, despite the low concentration needed, it is normally used in high value industries such as data centres.

Nano-intumescent Flame Retardants

Perhaps the biggest advancement in eco-friendly flame retardants has come with developments in nano-intumescent technology. Inspired by the technology to protect exposed steel beams in architecture, nano-intumescent flame retardants expand on contact to a flame to form tiny bubbles creating an insulating and protective barrier to the rest of the material. This prevents the material from igniting as opposed to alternatives which merely slow down the spread of fire. The nano technology is so small that the water-based polymers can soak into material such as cotton, coating every single fibre. This provides protection where toxicity is of great concern such as children’s pyjamas and car seats.

The height of protection

The future of eco-friendly flame retardant fabrics using nano-intumescent technology was put to the test in an experiment dealing only with completely renewable and environmentally benign electrolytes, cationic chitosan and anionic phytic acid. They were tested at different thicknesses and pH levels and found that all variations reduced the heat released, by a minimum of 50% and extinguished the flame in the vertical flame test.

The highest protection was found with the pH 4 solution, which is thought to be due to the high phosphorus content enhancing the intumescent behaviour of the coating. This experiment shows the first fully renewable intumescent assembly, marking a huge step forward in eco-friendly flame retardant fabrics. This should see a further decrease to the brominated flame retardants still being used.

For more information on our flame retardant protective clothing, check out the website or give a member of our team a call on 01635 527301 to discuss your needs.

Photo Credits:

Window panes – By MICHAEL GARCIA, CIV, DOD [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Earth egg – by Mark Rain via Flickr under CC license 2.0

Carbon nanotube – By User Mstroeck on en.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Brominated Flame Retardants: Stuff you don’t really need to know but is still quite interesting anyway

Ever wondered what the most commonplace treatments and materials that protect us from fire are called? We can imagine that question has kept you up many a night. Don’t worry, we’ve written an article (below).

The answer to your question is Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) but wait, there’s more. We’re not just going to give you the answer then leave, what kind of lazy writing is that?

We’ll even tell you how they work. Look at the next subheading below.

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How do Brominated Flame Retardants Work?

All BFRs feature bromine as a key component (as suggested by their name). One of the few elements to be a liquid at room temperature, bromine compounds can be used to create polymers. These, in turn, are used to treat flame retardant fabrics, plastics and building components.

When brominated flame retardants interact with fire they react in different ways depending on how they’ve been used or the item they’re coating.

What BFR’s have in common is that they release bromine atoms called free radicals. We know what you’re thinking, what a great name for a band right? Well forget it, every hippy worth their salt has taken the name and poured out crappy psychedelic folk under that moniker. Get back to the drawing board. We suggest the Aqua Spaniels or Fist of The East Star (if you’re doing metal).

Anyway, the free radicals overwhelms the chemical reaction taking place, reducing the generated heat, slowing the burning and even disrupting the fire all together in some cases.

A recent study in Sweden calculated that the EU area saves €520 – 1100 million each year through enforced use of flame retardant materials.

The use of these retardants in a home setting can dramatically increase the time available to evacuate in the case of a fire. A treated sofa can offer an additional 15 minutes to escape and a modern television set that is coated in BFR’s can give you 30 more minutes; precious time during an emergency. This should be enough time to save your 42” TV, your XBox, potentially even your family.

Where do we use BFRs?

There are three main variants of Brominated Flame Retardants and each specialises in a different form of protection from combustion. Deca-BD (Decabromodiphenyl ether) is used in the creation of plastics and flame retardant fabric. TBBPA is for electronics and is particularly used for coating motherboards. HBCD (Hexabromocyclododecane) is a BFR that is used for polystyrene foam and backings for textiles.

These coatings and materials are used in every facet of modern life from furniture to tech to the metaphysical concept of shame (OK, not the last one).

Put simply, BFR’s are hugely effective as fire retardants and have the added benefit of being affordable to produce. They are also the best rated materials when it comes to their risk profile, though there are alternative retardant processes available.

Are Brominated Flame Retardants Safe?

BFR’s were widely produced in the 1970’s when alternatives such as asbestos (the tastiest of all silicate minerals) were discovered to be toxic. Since then there has been much vigour in checking that these polymers are used safely as well as effectively.

In 2006 the EU created a regulatory framework for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) to weigh up the potential health issues of industrial materials. Some brominated flame retardants were found to be POP’s (Persistent Organic Pollutants) which means that they don’t degrade and can remain in the environment or even the human body for years.

Periodic-table

This means that some BFR’s were barred from use and others are currently being phased out by their producers.

To date, there has been no link found between brominated flame retardants and health problems in humans. Rigorous testing is being carried out by manufacturers and independent assessors to make sure that their flame retardant properties don’t also pose any kind of health risk.

Conclusion

Brominated flame retardants are a necessary element of our modern lifestyle, making us safer at work and at home. A recent study in Sweden calculated that the EU area saves €520 – 1100 million each year through enforced use of flame retardant materials. And this was just comparing the benefits of BFR’s for television sets.

While they may not be everyone’s favourite compound material, or made from popular chemicals like argon or magnesium, brominated fire retardants have done more good for society than most. But where are their statues? Where is their appreciated? Nowhere. Well, screw that, here’s a bloody great 21 gun salute in their honour.

Thanks brominated flame retardant. Thanks for everything.

We’ve no doubt all got our own personal brominated flame retardant stories so let us know yours below.

Photo Credits

Bromine – by Alchemist-hp (pse-mendelejew.de) (Own work) [FAL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-de], via Wikimedia Commons

Periodic Table – by LeVanHan (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Stitching and zips on flame retardant clothing. How do they work?

Zips. Humble little things that have been keeping us high and dry since 1890, when Whitcomb L. Judson patented the first modern zipper. Judson was a prolific inventor, but his ‘chain-lock fastener’ remains his most-recognised achievement, and the basis for the zips we use today.

On the face of it there’s little to distinguish one zip from another. But what about when your clothing needs to stand up to dangerous situations? You can’t fight a fire with your flies undone. The fastenings on many worker’s clothes need to keep things together in a wide range of conditions.

Zippers

How do you fireproof a zipper?

The cheapest solution is to use brass or oxidised brass for the zip clasp and teeth. Being a copper alloy, brass creates no sparks and is useful for situations where static build-up is dangerous. Oxidising the brass increases its protective quality by reacting copper molecules with oxygen, thereby creating an outer layer that prevents further corrosion.

Cheap doesn’t mean cheerful however, especially where fatal conditions are concerned. Brass has a relatively low melting point of 900 – 940°C; a candle burns at 1000°C. For working situations where trustworthy protection is needed, overalls held together using fully flame-resistant thread and fastenings are needed.

Hello Nomex

Step in Nomex, the original flame-resistant material. Created by DuPont forty years ago, Nomex continues to be the industry standard for flameproof clothing. Unlike flame-retardant treatments like Pyrovatex which add protective qualities to extant materials, Nomex fibres are flameproof in themselves. Using natural cellulose from wood, Nomex manufacture ‘aramids‘ (aromatic polyamide) fibres.

The molecules in aramid polymers are built along a horizontal axis and are therefore held together by extremely strong amide bonds. It’s these bonds that Nomex exploits for fire-resistance: when set alight the fibres carbonise and expand to form a protective layer. Another synthetic fireproof material, Lenzing FR, uses polyamide chains in the same way.

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Nomex is coloured using pigments and can be manufactured in sheet or fabric form. This means the material can be manipulated into flameproof stitching, fabric and zips. It’s lightweight and tear-resistant, and because the flame-resistant element of the material exists in the material’s fibre itself, the flameproof, anti-static nature of Nomex cannot be washed away or eroded.

It should be cleaned in a certain way, however. Nomex is subjected to five-second flame tests and will not melt, drip or burn; wearers can be subjected to intense heat for 35% longer without suffering second-degree burns. Certain forms of the material are resistant to electric arcs, too.

There you have it: flameproof zips.

Photo Credit:

Zips – By Rabensteiner (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Zipper – by Petras Gagilas via Flickr under CC license 2.0

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Fire retardant clothing and the devastating fires they protect you from

In industries where fire is a potential life-threatening danger, safety depends on preparation; every eventuality must be weighed and considered ahead of time. This means proper consideration of the safety procedures, a comprehensive assessment of the risks involved and a commitment to making sure that you absolutely have the best gear to protect you should the worst happen.

Fires take many forms and each presents its own unique and challenging characteristics. Here of some of the most destructive blazes you are likely to encounter, and the gear you need to be wearing.

Forest Fires

Intense oppressive heat, unrelenting expansion and with speeds of up to 14 miles an hour, forest fires (or wildfires) present firefighters with one of the most frightening environments imaginable. They are capable of generating up to 7 mile convection columns, hurricane strength winds and can even spontaneously produce their own lightning.

Attempting to contain and diffuse such volatile environments presents firefighters with a monumental challenge. The breadth of this challenge was illustrated recently in the news reports covering January’s forest fires in Australia. On the back of a record breaking heatwave – their hottest summer since 1908 – Australia suffered one of the most terrible wildfires in its history. This overwhelming heat over a prolonged period essentially readied the kindling, creating huge expanses of dry underbrush that would ultimately feed the savage gluttony of the flames.

As with all fires, the intensity produced in the blaze is a product of the fuel it consumes and, generally speaking, the more fuel available, the more intense the blaze. It is not difficult to understand the magnitude of the problem this presents for hot countries with such vast expanses of woodland. It is estimated that more than 100,000 wildfires clear 4-5 million acres (up to 2 million hectares) of land in the U.S alone every year.

Faced with the prospect of encountering such a blaze, it is imperative that those tackling it be well prepared. The High-Vis Flameproof Gore-Tex Jacket provides a high level of flame protection, and while no garment could be described as ‘comfortable’ in such a circumstance, the Gore-Tex fabric is breathable, and provides some semblance of relief in the face of such an aggressive fire.

Oil Rig Fires

In 1988 The Piper Alpha oil rig was decimated by fire, the blaze ripping through the structure leaving workers fatally stranded.

Although oil rig safety has improved a lot of the years (particularly with the introduction of the Blowout Preventer – BOP); oil rig fires remain one of the most dangerous explosive hazards in the industry.

Oil rig blowouts can occur in a number of ways, and all with equally devastating and emphatic results. Pockets of gas build up incredible pressure under many layers of rock, and if the heavy fluid or ‘drilling mud‘ kept within the drilling hole to restrain it is overwhelmed, natural gas, oil or water can ‘blow out’ – with spectacular and terrifying ferocity. Although the BOP has now circumvented much of this risk (acting as a kind of lid on a pressure cooker), the threat of blowouts still remains if the BOP is not closed in time, and the results are horrendous. Risk factors are ubiquitous on oils-rigs, as demonstrated in the Gulf oil rig fire, ignited by an acetylene torch cutting an oil line.

Oil Rig

Oil and gas industries require quality, durable and resilient workwear that can provide the utmost protection whilst remaining practical. The Nomex Coverall is manufactured to the highest specification, tailored for comfort with a multitude of pockets designed to anticipate the needs of the wearer. All this though is secondary to the protection the coverall offers, Nomex being the most effective inherently flame retardant fabric available.

Petrol Fires

Any environment containing flammable fuel is one that demands the most stringent safety practices are followed at all costs. Add the element of competitive racing into the mix with an emphasis on speed, and you are inevitably faced with a perilous and potentially fatal set of circumstances.

In the clip below, Jos Verstappen, a veteran driver from Benetton-Ford comes in for a pit stop. As the jacks lift the car and the fuel hose disconnects, a quarter of a second fuel leak splashes the car and crew with approximately three litres of petrol. The high temperatures from Verstappen’s disc brakes provide the catalyst; engulfing the driver and his crew in a ball of orange flame. Luckily, competent pit crew members were able to neutralize the blaze quickly, and Verstappen escaped with superficial burns. The incident shook the racing world, leading to the subsequent revision of refuelling equipment and practices.

Professions exposed to these risks but where a free range of movement remains paramount need to select the very best protective clothing for the job. Here, Nomex again provides the answer. The Comfort Coverall is incredibly lightweight (weighing less than a thin pair of jeans) and offers high levels of flame retardant, anti-static and electronic arc protection.

Whatever the dangers you are presented with in your profession, it is undeniable that fire safety is not something that can be compromised when scrutinising your annual budget. When choosing your workwear, you must also consider the nature of the threat posed and the practicality of the garment carefully, in order to ensure that, should a disaster threaten, you are as prepared as you can be to avert it.

 

Photo Credits:

Burning Platform – by Micky Aldridge via Flickr under cc license 2.0

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Flame retardant clothing: Cleaning and care advice

Although flame retardant clothing is rough and tough and able to withstand intense temperatures, they still need proper care to maintain their flame retardant properties and keep the fabric in excellent condition.

It’s not just a case of bunging them in the washing machine, you need to be a bit more considerate than that.

Without proper laundering you run the risk of damaging fabric and potentially putting your life in danger. The lifespan of fire retardant material is directly correlated with proper cleaning and care.

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Washing: Essential for maintaining your flame retardant fabrics

Home Cleaning

One of the most important factors in cleaning fire retardant clothing is avoiding hard water. The minerals can stick to the fabric, increasing its flammability. That’s not to say don’t wash your clothing if you live in a hard water area, but be aware you may need to replace your clobber more regularly. Alternatively, you could install a water softener to your mains.

After getting a suitable amount of soft water, dissolve laundry detergent before rinsing the clothing for a couple of minutes, turning it inside out and washing. However, you should avoid detergents which contain peroxide or chlorine bleach and enzymes.

Bleach can weaken the fabric, causing considerable damage. Although it’s tempting, you should also avoid using soaps; particularly tallow soaps which contain animal fats. Soaps, along with fabric softeners and starch can coat the fabric reducing its flame retardant capabilities.

If the stains prove to be too hard to remove, one could alternatively use warm water preheated to a temperature of not more than 600C or 1400F.  That kind of temperature should see off the most stubborn stains and the clothing can . After washing, the clothing should not be over-dried. If you need to iron-press it, use a low heat only.

Industrial Cleaning

As with home cleaning, ideally soft water should be used to clean flame retardant clothing. Only non-ionic detergents and soaps should be used to avoid adversely reducing its flame retardant properties.

Additionally, detergents should not contain sodium hypochlorite which could bleach the garment and subsequently reduce its luminescence effect.

Although industrial cleaning is done on different garments simultaneously, flame retardant clothing should always be washed separately to retain its luminance.

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A big boring picture of a big boring washing machine. You’re welcome

If you notice stubborn and abrasive stains on the clothing, reduce the abrasion in the wash wheel by first flushing the garments at 400C. You should subsequently set up load sizes and wash formulas to minimize fabric abrasion and redeposition. As you are washing, avoid using other laundry additives like fabric softeners and starch. It’s also advisable to maintain the pH level of the water between 5.5 and 6.5.

After you are done with the washing, extract the clothing quickly to avoid creases. They could be further avoided through tunnel finishing at temperatures not higher than 2800F. The drying on the other hand, should only be done at a stack setting of 1650F. This ultimately prevents the temperatures of the fabric in the basket rising above 2800F. If you’d like to press the clothing, do it at temperature of 2800F using a short cycle.

Finally, if you choose to dry clean, ensure that only a petroleum solvent or perchloroethylene is used. This is the most most effective way to remove flammable stains like greases and oils. Although home and industrial cleaning are relatively effective, dry cleaning is the quickest and most efficient method. Therefore, you could confidently consult your local dry cleaners any time you need comprehensive cleaning on your flame retardant clothing.

Photo Credits:

Old Advert: From Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license

BIG Washing machine: by Craig Stanfill rom Flickr used under Creative Commons licence

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Intumescents 101

While not used in the manufacture of work clothing, when it comes to fireproofing, intumescents are a key substance that anyone working within the fields of construction and/or fire safety should be aware of.

Commonly found in a putty form, they are often used as an insulator to seal or line areas where the risk of fire spreading is high, and many will have come into contact with the substance around pipes as well as door and window frames.

How Does It Work?

Intumescents are the primary line of defence in incubating and preventing the spread of fire. A technologically advanced fire protection material, they are typically used in passive fire protection (to limit or contain the spread,) for their ability to swell under exposure to heat, thus increasing in volume while decreasing in density.

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To be more scientific, this is what is known as an endothermic reaction, which creates a char that insulates and transforms the intumescent into a fire resistant surface. Under such conditions, it can expand to 50 times its applied thickness.

Applications

Used in a variety of building projects, from houses to offices, ships to aircraft, intumescents are the preferred method of fireproofing for their more aesthetic qualities.

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They come in a variety of colours and when applied their finish resembles that of a painted surface, which means they can provide all the protection required while blending seamlessly into a décor scheme.

Another bonus is that they can also help prevent the spread of black mould, ideal for rooms that suffer from damp.

Varieties

There are two main types of intumescent – those that produce a soft or a hard char when placed under heat. Soft char has a much lower expansion rate and is used more in everyday situations to neutralize the spread of heat. Hard char on the other hand, exerts a much higher expansion pressure and is commonly used on plastic and steel piping when any leakage needs to be covered the spread of fire immobilised.

Tried And Tested

Though they can be affected by environmental conditions such as humidity, intumescents are a tried and tested means of preventing or postponing the spread of fire as well as protecting a building’s structure from the damage this can cause. With a number of varieties now being made using non-toxic materials with low volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), even the eco-conscious home owner, developer, or worker can appreciate the benefits of this everyday lifesaver.

 

Photo Credits:

Unitherm: By Achim Hering (Own work) or CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Common

savep verniciature via photopin cc

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European Safety Standards and Codes: What do they mean?

Knowledge of industry standards is crucial when choosing the correct safety workwear for your crew. At first glance the range of safety standards, codes and symbols can be confusing but fear not, we have put together this handy guide to help you navigate your way through the industry jargon and find the right level of protection for you.

ISO Numbers

The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is the world’s largest body for voluntary international standards. ISO numbers can be seen listed alongside all our safety products. Take our High Specification Cantex Jacket for example. You can see it complies to six individual ISO safety codes, each of the numbers providing information about the different ways this jacket offers protection.

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Harness: Safety at work should be the number on priority

ISO11612 deals specifically with flame retardant qualities of fabrics and the following numbers A1, C1 etc. show exactly which criteria within that ISO the garment complies with, for example standards on heat penetration, flammability when exposed to an edge flame, propensity to melting or length of afterglow.

The first one is EN ISO 11612 A1 which relates to surface ignition. B1 meanwhile shows that the garment offers protection against convective heat. C1 denotes radiant heat, D3 is molten aluminium splash while E3 relates to molten iron splash.

ISO numbers are global standards and the EN at the beginning of the code indicates it has also been adopted as standard within the EU.

Certification Symbols

Each ISO number has its own symbol that should be sewn into the inside of every protective garment. This enables you to tell at a glance whether a specific piece of clothing is up to the job. We won’t name them all – for obvious reasons – but these are the main ones you need to look out for when buying workwear.

11612ISO 11612 -Provides protection against flame, radiated and convection heat, molten metal spatters and contact heat and water.

14116

ISO 14116 -Clothing with limited flame spread that will only burn for a short amount of time and will stop upon removal from an ignition source.

11611

ISO 11611 – Provides protection in a welding environment. Protects against chance contact with the flame, molten metal spatter and UV.

EN 13034EN13034-6 – Provides protection against chemicals. Liquid repellent clothing that protects against chemical splashes.

EN IEC 61482EN IEC 61482 – Provides protection against arc blast. Protects against the thermal risks associated with exposure to an electric arc.

EN 1149EN 1149 – Antistatic. Provides protection against sparks generated by a build-up of electrostatic charge.

As we say, this is by no means an exhaustive list. This guide is intended to help users understand some of the more common symbols and ISO standards involved with the production of safety work clothing. For more information have a look at the www.iso.org website.

Specialist Work Clothing provides high quality protective clothing and safety workwear for industrial use. For more information, visit our website.

Photo Credit:

By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chad Runge [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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