How does air pollution affect the heart?

In this blog post, we will discuss “How does air pollution affect the heart?” First, the post will discuss the basics of air pollution. Then, the article will discuss general facts about the heart. The article, next, will in detail focus on the relationship between poor air quality and heart. In the end, the post will provide some solutions to deal with air pollution.

How does air pollution affect the heart?

Air pollution can damage your heart in multiple ways. Inhalation of polluted air can cause damage to the inside walls of your blood vessels, causing harm to your heart and circulatory system. Many theories have suggested that particulate matter primarily causes harm to your heart. Chronic exposure to particulate pollution can speed up atherosclerosis and result in less life expectancy. I am mentioning some of the famous cardiovascular diseases due to air pollution below:

  • Arrhythmia
  • Coronary Syndrome
  • COPD
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Heart Attack
  • Ischemic Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Sudden cardiac death

Let’s first see what air pollution is all about.

What is air pollution?

The introduction of harmful agents into the atmosphere is known as air pollution. The toxic agents are known as pollutants. These pollutants are derived from natural and human activities, and they can be chemical or biological.

Major pollutants present in the air are particulate matter (PM), ground-level ozone (O3), NO2, SO2, and CO. Air also has lead, allergens, bacteria, viruses and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Besides climate change, air pollution has become a significant environmental risk to human health. 

What is Outdoor and Indoor pollution?

Air pollution in the outside environment is called outdoor pollution. The examples of outdoor pollution are as follows:

  • Transportation
  • Combustion of fossil fuel
  •  Cooking activities
  • Energy generation and consumption
  • Agriculture
  •  Improper Solid Waste Management
  • Industries and factories
  • Household pollution
  • Celebrations
  • Construction and demolition

Air pollution created inside any closed structure is called indoor pollution. The examples of indoor pollution are as follows:

  • Household activities 
  • Perfumes and fresheners 
  • Cooking fuel/activities
  • Cigarette 
  • Radon 
  • Poor ventilation 
  • Uncleaned furniture 
  • Pets 
  • Asbestos

 There are two leading causes of air pollution- natural pollution (happened due to natural events like dust storms) and anthropogenic pollution (happened due to human activities like combustion of fossil fuels).

What is AQI, and what levels make it unhealthy?

WHO has set up the air quality guidelines to regulate the emissions; however, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has calculated its own AQI to safeguard the public health of Americans. 

Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has determined the air quality index (AQI) to know the air quality you inhale. The table given below will show how the air quality index looks like.

Air Quality Index (AQI)Levels of Health Concern
(When the AQI is in this range)(air quality conditions are)
0 to 50Good           
51 to 100Moderate
101 to 150Unhealthy for Sensitive group
151 to 200Unhealthy
201 to 300Very Unhealthy
301 to 500Hazardous

The primary purpose of AQI is to inform residents about the impact of local air quality on their health. The Environment Protection Agency calculates the AQI for five major pollutants: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

The meaning of the Air quality index as mentioned earlier categories are as follows:

Meaning
Air quality is considered satisfactory; air pollution is of little or no risk.
Air quality is acceptable; some pollutants present in the air might be dangerous for a minority of people who are very sensitive to air pollution.
Members of sensitive groups may get ill effects. However, the general public is likely not to get affected.
This air quality level can pose a threat to everyone. However, members of sensitive people may experience more severe effects.
Emergency level of air quality; Entire population might be affected
Health alert: Every person breathing such air quality may get serious health issues.

 Thus, it is clear that excluding the first two levels are relatively good to venture out and to do various outdoor activities. However, the last three levels will give you or other adverse effects by inhaling dirty air. 

Now, after getting the brief information on air pollution, let’s dive into the other details.

What is the heart, and why do you need it?

The heart is an organ made up of many cardiac muscles that pump blood throughout the body, and the circulatory system further circulates this pumped blood. The circulatory system is made of blood vessels that supply oxygen and essential nutrients to reach tissue and eradicate carbon dioxide and other unwanted debris. I believe the heart is the whole and sole of your body because your tissues and organs will fail if the heart stops supplying oxygen and nutrients.

Your heart and circulatory system together make a cardiovascular system. The cardiovascular system is made up of the following:

  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Arteries
  • Veins
  • Coronary vessels
  • Portal vessels 

Your heart beats at the centre of your chest, well, not precisely centre; it is slightly inclined to the left-hand side, and it is behind your breastbone. According to the Texas Heart Institute, your heart rests between your lungs, and it is protected by a double-walled sac called the pericardium. The lubricant fluid known as pericardial fluid ensures the smooth functioning of the heart during contractions and movement of the lungs and diaphragm.

Do you know what the size of your heart is? Naturally, the size of your heart would differ from your other family members. Roughly, the heart’s size is similar to your closed, large fist. Besides, the heart circulates blood through two pathways, namely, the pulmonary circuit and the systematic circuit. These two circuits take care of the supply of the oxygenated and deoxygenated blood. The heart also contains electrical “pacemaker” cells, which is responsible for your heart to beat correctly. Your heart beats around 100,000 times, making 60 to 80 minutes per minute at the end of the day.

However, the blockages in any arteries can lead to a heart attack or damage the cardiac or heart muscle. This can further cause conditions like cardiac arrest, where the functioning of the heart is suddenly stopped due to electric disturbances in the heart rhythms. The traditional causes of such conditions are as follows:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Obesity and overweight
  • Lifestyle choices
  • Other Medical conditions such as high blood pressure

In this blog, we will focus on the effect of air pollution on the heart.

Does poor air quality affect your heart?

Yes, poor air quality affects your heart in brutal ways. The World Health Organization warned that nine out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. As per their report, more than twenty per cent of the cardiovascular deaths occurring in the world is due to air pollution. Coming to the United States of America statistics, the American Heart Associations noted that one person dies every 40 seconds due to cardiovascular diseases. One in three Americans have issues related to heart and blood vessels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) observed that Americans are at risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and smoking habits.

Another report published by the American Heart Association said that irrespective of the concentration of the pollutants in any area, the presence of the microscopic particles could bother your heart functions. So let’s dive in deep about how these particles can affect your heart.

Particulate Pollution

The microscopic particles originated from natural and human activities such as the combustion of fossil fuels, smog, wildfire smoke, dust storms, vehicular pollution, etc. In scientific terms, these particles are called particulate matter. Particulate matter of the size of 2.5 micrometres is smaller than the diameter of human hair. Examples of PM2.5 are combustion particles, organic compounds, metals, etc. Particulate matter of the size 10 micrometre is also smaller than the diameter of your hair, and its examples are dust, pollen, mould, etc.

When inhaled, the particulate matter, especially PM2.5, goes deep inside the lungs and gets dissolved into your bloodstream. Thus, the blood carries a relatively more minor oxygen supply to all the parts of the body.

Research done by Newby et al. in 2014 stated that exposure to outdoor particulate pollution could cause strong adverse effects on your cardiovascular function. In addition, many cardiologists have revealed that short-term and long-term exposure to high concentrations of toxic airborne pollutants affects your heart and the circulatory system.

How does this particulate matter affect your heart?

As per the report of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has stated that exposure to fine particulate pollution can affect your heart in primarily three ways:

  • Translocation into the blood
  • Systematic inflammation
  • Direct and Indirect Effects on the autonomic nervous system

Continuous exposure to such a type of pollution can cause oxidative stress. In simpler words, oxidative stress is an interruption in the balance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body. Such disturbance causes various issues in heart functioning such as endothelial function, pro-thrombotic processes, cardiac electrophysiology and lipid metabolism.

Let’s learn about how inhaled polluted air affects cardiovascular health.

When you inhale the particulate pollution, it reaches the alveoli. As a result, this increases the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and generates an inflammatory response. Further, alveolar macrophages may release pro-inflammatory cytokines (which makes diseases worst). Such consequences can alter vascular control, heart rate variability, contractility, and rhythm. On the other hand, some fine and ultrafine particles may translocate from the lungs directly into the circulatory system. Here, these nasty matter directly impacts cardiovascular functions and can directly affect the central nervous system. Finally, all such processes can affect the heart and blood vessels through the autonomic nervous system.

The US EPA has reported that extended contact with the fine particulate pollution has augmented the risk of hospitalization for heart conditions and mortality. However, another research was done by Dominici et al.,2006 said that the intensity of the hospital admissions and mortality rate depends upon the composition of the pollutants concentration, different sources of pollution and exposure differences.

The main reason in every city could be the Traffic-related particle pollution. Vehicular pollution contains various contaminants which have negatively impacted heart health. Another study done by Chuang et al. in 2007 has positively correlated traffic pollution with subclinical effects such as inflammation, oxidative stress and autonomic nervous system balance.

The British Heart Foundation has also orderly explained the effect of air pollution on the heart and circulatory system. As per the research, particulate matter can dissolve in your bloodstream when your nose inhales filthy air. As a result, the pollutants-infused blood will start circulating in your body. These toxic agents can firstly damage the inside walls of your blood vessels. As a result, the blood can become narrower and rigid.

Secondly, dissolved pollutants can restrict the movement of your blood vessels. Such restriction of blood movement can increase your blood pressure and add pressure to your heart. The US EPA also further inputted that exposure to particulate matter and nitrogen oxides can age the blood vessels prematurely.

The other effect of the extremely high levels of air pollution is increased chances of blood clots.

Additionally, the upsurge levels of hazardous contaminants can affect the normal electrical functioning of your heart, and thus it can cause abnormal heart rhythms. In worst cases, small changes in the biology of the heart can cause a risk of heart failure. The British Heart Foundation further explained that people with existing heart and circulatory conditions are at increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. Approximately 36,000 deaths occur every year in the UK due to heart problems.

In other Asian countries like China, Tao Liu, PhD, deputy director and epidemiologist of the environmental health division at Guangdong Provincial Institute of Public Health in China, conducted a meta-analysis to examine the link between air pollution and hypertension risk.

In this research, Tao Liu with the team focused on the pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter (PM). The meta-analysis noted that people associated with high blood pressure had short-term exposure to SOx, PM2.5 and PM10 and long term exposure to NO2 and PM10. The study of Tao Liu further noted that the people having hypertension were at more risk of heart attacks and other heart diseases.

In the next segment, I will provide you with detailed solutions to fight air pollution, making you hale and hearty.

 What can I do to protect myself from air pollution?

I will elaborate on some of the measures to protect yourself from air pollution.

Personal Hygiene

You can also fight the effects of air pollution by maintaining personal hygiene:

  • You can cut your nails short to avoid the accumulation of dirt. 
  • You can also practice mouth gargling after coming home to free your mouth from unwanted guests.
  • You can also brush twice a day to keep airborne infections at bay.
  • You can also take steam therapy at home to cleanse your lungs.

Quit Smoking

Smoking cigarettes, hookahs (shisha), electric vape or any other types of cigars are not at all suitable for your health. It’s best to stop smoking. Active and passive smoking provides the direct entry of harmful pollutants into your body. This causes the risk to your respiration and other organs dependent on it. 

Physical Exercise 

Physical activities have many benefits to your body. It not only improves your stamina and immunity levels but also helps to increase your lung capacity. Yoga, sanas, swimming, running, cycling, brisk walking and dancing are some of the best forms of exercise to improve your health.

Breathing Exercise 

The majority of people in the world don’t breathe properly. However, correct breathing techniques can keep illnesses due to air pollution at bay. A pranayama is a form of yoga asana which helps to improve breathing methods and lung functionality.

Some of the pranayama types that help you fight air pollution are Kapalbhati, Anulom Vilom, Chandra Nadi, Surya Nadi and Bhastrika. It is strongly recommended to learn this art of breath from a well-certified yoga trainer. 

You can also increase your lung muscles by simply taking a deep breath and holding it for a count of 10. Then, slowly breathe out the air. If you can keep your breath for a longer time, then you have good lungs health.

Good diet 

Always go for a well-balanced diet to remain fit and strong. Consistent eating of junk and fast food will increase the risk of obesity and other diseases. In addition, such people are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of air pollution. Instead, add more fresh veggies and fruits to your diet. Also, you can consume less meat to minimise carbon footprints.

You can also add anti-inflammatory foods as these types of food help to cleanse your lungs effectively. Anti-inflammatory foods which I recommend are: 

Immunity booster drinks

You can do your immunity booster drinks by using readily available items in your kitchen. Immunity booster drinks help to cleanse your lungs. Some of the DIY immunity booster drinks are as follows:

  • Take a glass of warm white milk. Add half a teaspoon of turmeric powder to it. Also, add two strands of saffron to it. Drink it at night before sleeping. You will get good sleep, and you will be relieved from chest congestion. 
  • Boil water by adding half cinnamon stick. Drink the spice-infused water once a day. Your sinuses would be cleared up. 
  • Buy an excellent green tea. Prepare a green tea by following the packet instructions. Have it whenever you feel irritation in your throat. 
  • Take some crushed 1 or 2 peppercorns, a half-inch of a blade of lemongrass and 1 inch of grated ginger and half a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Add everything in one glass of boiling water and reduce it to half a glass. Drink two tablespoons of this spice-infused warm water every after three hours. Adding honey is optional. 
  • You can also drink warm water and add honey if you want. Honey helps to relieve throat irritation.

Use Mask

Mask can prevent you from inhaling the polluted air. You would be able to work in contaminated areas without any fear of allergy infections and stress. 

Masks I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
BASE CAMP CROSSDUST MASKEAPI Filter Technology & Advanced NanotechnologyUser FriendlyMore Durable Six layers face maskFilter materials of the dust mask: Double-Layer Melt-blown with Electrostatic Adsorption Performance, Activated carbon, Non-woven Polypropylene
NIOSH approved N95 maskFour layers mask Flexible nose pad, dual strapsDisposable maskEasy to breathe
BASE CAMP Reusable Cloth Face MaskThree layers mask; 100% cotton Skin-friendly and breathablePocket to add additional filterReusable Mask

How can I individually reduce air pollution?

You can always try your level best to minimise air pollution. The following are the methods to reduce air pollution at an individual level.

Plant Trees

Encourage tree plantation drives amongst the communities. You can be a green saviour of your region. Trees are the natural air purifiers of the environment, and it supplies us with clean air.

Municipal councils or the local authorities can develop urban forests to increase the green cover of the locality. They can also plan to create vertical green walls to improve oxygen levels of the region naturally. But don’t forget to plant only indigenous trees. 

Human/ religious celebrations in eco-friendly ways 

Nowadays, many couples celebrate gender (of their baby) revealing parties by bursting firecrackers. But, unfortunately, these firecrackers can transform into massive wildfires if they are burst near trees.

Thus, you can celebrate such celebrations by planting trees in your nearby barren land. Bursting firecrackers on any religious, festive or personal occasion are only going to harm your loved ones. 

You can also celebrate Christmas by not cutting Christmas Trees. Instead, you can buy artificial ones and use them in the coming years too.

Discourage Plastic

Single-use plastic has been one of the major concerns in the environment. Plastic pollution indirectly contributes to the degradation of air quality. Plastic, when burned, releases various toxic gases such as dioxins into the air.

Encourage alternative use of the plastic product. For example, you can wear a cloth bag for shopping. You can also carry your travel cutlery set to a restaurant. Additionally, you can take your water bottle instead of purchasing a packaged drinking water bottle every time.

Use of public transportation 

Increase the use of public transport to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion. You can also try carpooling or the cab sharing option. Then, you can also use bicycles instead of scooters. Lastly, you can always opt for walking a shorter distance. 

Alternative use of fossil fuel

It would be best to try switching to other fuel alternatives. For example, don’t use wood for the fireplace. Instead, you can wear multiple layers of clothes for warmth. In this way, you can conserve energy. Additionally, you can also install solar panels on house roofs to convert solar energy into electricity. 

You can also buy electric and hybrid vehicles to minimise tailpipe emissions. Finally, propose or discuss a plan with your mayor or any relevant local authority to promote your region’s renewable energy sector.

Reduction of personal carbon footprints

You can also keep a check on your carbon footprints. For example, you can delete unwanted photos, videos or emails from clouds and email boxes as and when possible. Unfortunately, this unwanted stuff takes a lot of energy, which indirectly contributes to air pollution.

You can also switch off the lights and electrical appliances of the vacant rooms. Try buying local products instead of imported ones. Be vocal about them. You can also discover your own country rather than travelling to different ones.

Create Awareness

Air pollution is unpredictable; air pollution in your vicinity can affect people living in Asia and vice-a-versa. However, you can create public awareness about air pollution amongst your community by teaching and interacting with your kids about the importance of good air. 

Educate youth by telling them the ill effects of poor air quality. Then, let your country’s future know that they deserve a better place to live!

How can the local authorities improve the air quality of your region?

You can always observe the changes happening in your surrounding nature. If you experience bad air quality or any activities producing air pollution, you can always concern relevant local authorities or the mayor.

Here are some methods which local authorities can do.

Proper disposal of waste 

Improper solid waste management of an area is an invitation to many diseases and infections. In addition, burning solid waste in public can cause air pollution, although such practices are rare in the US. 

The wastes are mainly disposed of in the engineered landfills and recycled before final disposal to landfills and waste incinerators. 

In addition, waste incinerators help to convert waste into energy.

However, many researchers have claimed that gasification technology or waste-to-energy technology may release harmful gaseous contaminants. Thus, it is necessary that waste collectors rigorously segregate the waste before sending it to waste incinerators. 

The best solution is to minimise waste at a personal level. Statistically, 70% of the waste generated can be recycled effectively. Thus, strive to recycle your waste at a personal level as much as possible.

Reducing air pollution from agriculture

Stubble burning is still practised in some parts of the US. This event contributes to the degradation of air. Local authorities can help farmers convert this waste into cattle fodder or be transformed into pellets as fuel. In addition, farmers should stop the usage of harmful pesticides or fertilisers to decrease air pollution.

How can I reduce indoor air pollution?

Maintaining household or indoor hygiene

You can decrease poor air quality by adequately maintaining indoor hygiene. For example, you can frequently clean your cupboards and open decks to avoid an accumulation of dust particles. You can then vacuum your carpets and sofas at least twice a week. 

Make sure your doggies and cats are well-groomed. Use chimneys and exhaust fans in kitchens. You can also install an exhaust fan in washrooms. Always make sure you are keeping your house well ventilated. 

Keep doors and windows open when possible. Maintain the health of electric appliances such as heaters, humidifiers, AC, fans, air ducts and so on at regular intervals of the year. Avoid overuse of strong perfumes or strong scented candles indoors. You can additionally use indoor plants to make your indoors more lively and fresh.

Indoor plants

Indoor plants do the same work as outdoor ones- they help to purify indoor air naturally. These indoor plants are also easy to maintain.

The indoor plants which I recommend are as follows: 

Air purifiers

Air purifiers help to improve indoor air quality. The risk of getting air pollution-related diseases decreases due to the use of air purifiers. Air purifiers having good HEPA filters do an adequate job of filtering pollutants.

Air Purifiers I recommend are as follows:

NameWhy I recommend it
Blueair Pro XL Air Purifier99.7% of airborne pollutants such as mould, allergens, smoke particles and pollens are captured. 
AIRMEGA 400SReduction of 99.97% of particulates of 0.3 microns. Also responsible for reducing more than 99% of VOCs, NH3 and CH3CHO.Washable and permanent pre-filters are available 
Blueair Pure 121Includes 3-part filtration system. Captures 99% of common airborne PM 2.5 pollutants such as allergens, odours, smoke, mould spores, dust mites and pet dander.An activated carbon filter removes common odours caused by smoke, pets, and gases (VOCs) and smoke caused by wildfires.

Humidifiers

The humidity levels in the office should be maintained between 30 and 50% in the office. This range helps to keep dust mites, mould and other allergens under control. In addition, when AC or heater makes the air in the room dry, humidifiers can maintain correct humidity levels.

Humidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Amazon Basics Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier 4 litre of tank capacityAuto shut-off feature and 12 or 24-hour timer settingsIt can be used in both seasons
MOVTIP HumidifierPortable Mini-humidifier500 ml capacity, still produces longer mistsEasy to operate
LEVOIT HumidifierIt can be used for both seasons6 litres of capacity Easy to clean and has a remote control

Dehumidifiers 

Dehumidifiers also work similarly to humidifiers. It controls the high levels of humidity in the office.

Dehumidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Pro Breeze DehumidifierCan extract 50 pints of moisture a dayEnergy-saving auto-off systemBuilt-in Humidity sensor
HOmeLabs DehumidifierEliminates moistness, odour controllerEasy to cleanRemovable water tank
TCL Portable Dehumidifier20 pints of moisture removed per dayIt can be operated at low temperatures tooEasy to maintain

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

How does air pollution affect plants?

Can Poor Air Quality Cause Sore Throat?

Can Poor Air Quality Cause Sinus Issues?

Conclusion

In this blog post, we discussed “How does air pollution affect the heart?” First, the post discussed the basics of air pollution. Then, the article also discussed general facts about the heart. The article, next, in detail, focused on the relationship between poor air quality and heart. In the end, the post provided some solutions to deal with air pollution.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How does air pollution affect the heart?

What are the possible effects of air pollution on the heart?

The possible effects of air pollution on the heart are as follows:

  • Coronary syndrome
  • Arrhythmia
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke

Can poor air quality cause heart palpitations?

Yes, poor air quality can cause heart palpitations. The inhalation of airborne pollutants can cause depletion of oxygen in the blood. Such under-oxygenation of blood can cause the heart to experience irregular rhythms. This process can lead to chest pain, tightness and palpitations. Prolonged exposure to air pollution can cause cardiovascular severe health problems such as coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure.

Which air pollutant increases heart disease?

Particulate pollution containing particulate matter (PM2.5) can increase the chances of cardiovascular disease. A study conducted in the United States observed that PM2.5 causes increased lung cancer and cardiovascular deaths.

How can you tell if air pollution is affecting you?

Air pollution can give you immediate symptoms such as:

  • Wheezing, coughing and sneezing
  • Dryness and irritation of throat, nose, eyes and skin
  • Dizziness and sluggish behaviour
  • Insomnia and confusion
  • Irritation
  • Sore Throat
  • Sinusitis
  • Headache and nausea

What toxins affect the heart?

Toxins that affect the heart are as follows:

  • Arsenic
  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Copper

Which air pollutants increases heart diseases and blood pressure?

Air pollutant such as the particulate matter of the size 2.5 micrometre (PM2.5) has been associated with the elevated risk of high blood pressure and heart diseases such as stroke, heart failure and myocardial infarction.

References

Air pollution and cardiovascular disease: A window of opportunity. World Heart Federation. Available at: https://world-heart-federation.org/news/air-pollution-and-cardiovascular-disease-a-window-of-opportunity/  

Air pollution and heart disease, stroke. www.heart.org. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/air-pollution-and-heart-disease-stroke  

Air Pollution. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_1  

Heart disease facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

Lewis, T. & Dutfield, S., 2021. Human heart: Anatomy, function & facts. LiveScience. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/34655-human-heart.html

Li, T.-G. et al., 2018. Outdoor Air Pollution and arterial hypertension. IntechOpen. Available at: https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/59515

Linking Air Pollution and Heart Disease,2021, EPA. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/linking-air-pollution-and-heart-disease

Particle Pollution and Cardiovascular Effects. EPA. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/pmcourse/particle-pollution-and-cardiovascular-effects  

What is air pollution? BHF. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/risk-factors/air-pollution

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