The Fungus Among Us – Restoring Ecosystems and Controlling Pests

Special article by Marcia Anderson, PhD, LTE;  U.S. EPA Center for Integrated Pest Management

It’s that time of year to take a walk through a forest or your neighborhood. Are seeing mushrooms, the reproductive structure of a fungus, growing on rotting tree trunks or decaying woodchips? One of the main benefits of fungi is that they help break down and recycle organic material, making nutrients available for new life. 

Depending on where you are located you might be seeing mushrooms growing in the woodchips on your playground. There is some concern when toddlers or small children are around as they tend to put everything in their mouths, including mushrooms.  One of the easiest IPM solutions is roping off the area until the local cooperative extension service can identify the mushrooms as being non-toxic. This type of interaction serves as a reminder of how little most people know about fungi. There is, however, much to discover.

Commonly known as the aborted entoloma or shrimp of the woods, is an edible mushroom in the Entolomataceae family of fungi. Caution should be used in identifying the species before eating.

Fungi have been around for 1.3 billion years, but we are just beginning to discover many of their benefits. Aside from being a culinary treat, certain fungi are key elements in restoring ecosystems and allies in helping farmers protect valuable agricultural crops.

Although relatively unrecognized, fungi can be powerful tools in pollution remediation through a process known as mycoremediation. That is the use of fungi to break down or remove a range of contaminants, including oils and toxic chemicals, from the environment. This form of biological remediation can filter toxins from stormwater runoff and help clean up industrial oil spills.

These fungi can help us remove or detoxify chemicals, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, petroleum compounds, and heavy metals like mercury and lead. How do they remove these chemicals? The fungal mycelium, or vegetative part of the fungus, absorbs and converts the hydrocarbons in these contaminants into carbohydrates. Research using oyster mushrooms has shown significant pollutant removal from both soil and water in remediation areas. Once used for bioremediation, the mushrooms are destroyed as toxic waste.

Turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) helping to break down old trees.

Similarly, turkey tail mushrooms are suitable for mercury remediation, and garden giant mushrooms can be used for E. coli removal. Mycobooms, straw rafts containing mushroom mycelium, can absorb oil from water.

Fungi are also used as biological pesticides, or biopesticides, that target specific insect pests and plant diseases. Biopesticides are considered less toxic than their chemical counterparts and are comparatively safer environmentally. Termed mycoinsecticides, some fungi act as parasites of insects and can protect plants from certain infections and diseases, thereby enhancing crop production.

For example, one biological pesticide used in agriculture is Trichoderma spp., a beneficial fungus that colonizes plant roots and outcompetes disease-causing fungi. Trichoderma protects plants from soil-borne pathogens in non-food crops, fruiting vegetables, cole crops, legumes, herbs, cucurbits, berries, and small fruits. A side benefit is that, over time, it stimulates plant growth and increases plant defenses.

Wood rot fungi Trichoderma spp. Robert L. Anderson, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Another commercially used biopesticide, Beauveria bassiana, is a fungus that acts on insects including aphids, whiteflies, thrips, fire ants, and bedbugs. The fungal bodies adhere to the insect’s exoskeleton and slowly dissolve a hole in the insect’s body. The fungus penetrates the body, proliferates, and produces spores that subsequently liquefy the insect’s internal organs. Its slow action allows time for the target insect to pick up the fungal spores and infect the rest of the colony. The best news is that it does not affect non-target organisms.

Another fungal biopesticide, Pythium oligandrum, protects crops and turf from roughly 20 soil-borne pathogens. Muscodor albus is a fungal biopesticide that is an alternative to the fumigant methyl bromide. It is used to protect food commodities from post-harvest decay. It is also used on ornamental plants, seeds, and seedlings to protect against soil-borne diseases.

In tropical countries, manufacturers have combined the use of entomopathogenic biopesticides and insecticide-treated bed nets to control the mosquitoes that carry malaria. Sprays of some fungal spores are pathogenic to mosquitoes during specific stages of their life cycle and affect their metabolic and reproduction rates. Fungal infection consequently reduces the mosquito’s ability to transmit diseases. The World Health Organization has been testing the biopesticide Beauveria bassiana to reduce malarial transmission, resulting in a high mosquito mortality and rapid reductions in feeding and flight capability.

The growth of the biopesticide market, including these fungal-based controls, comes in response to the increasing demand for more natural pest control tools. Biopesticides can complement conventional chemical pesticides and are cost effective and eco-friendly. Biopesticides can be incorporated into any Integrated Pest Management program, contributing to sustainable pest control and healthy environment.

For more information on biopesticides, visit the EPA biopesticide webpage. In addition, Paul Stamets’ TED lecture on mushrooms discusses how mushrooms can save the world.

Check out this guide from the USDA Forest Service Field Guide to Common Macrofungi in Eastern Forests and Their Ecosystem Functions 

If it looks like a big blob it could be slime mold check out this article by Dr. Kevin Ong 

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SPN: Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus is on the rise.

According to the calendar we are entering the season of fall. For Texans, this means football (hopefully) and  battling mosquitoes on your campuses. This particular insects will make you itch, scratch, and sometimes even say bad words. With the help of Dr. Sonja Swiger,Associate Professor & Veterinary/Medical Extension Entomologist, AgriLife Extension this article will help explain the symptoms of West Nile Virus and encephalitis, what schools need to know about basic mosquito management and additional resources to help educate you and your staff.  

Aedes-life-cycle cdc

Life Cycle of Aedes aegypti and Ae. albopictus Mosquitoes (image from CDC)

Mosquitoes are of concern in the school environment because many species are painful biters and/or are capable of transmitting diseases. In the United States, the threat of developing encephalitis from mosquitoes is far greater than the threat from other mosquito vectored diseases. Encephalitis, meningitis, and other diseases can develop from the bites of mosquitoes infected with certain viruses such as West Nile, St. Louis encephalitis, LaCrosse (California) encephalitis, and Eastern equine and Western equine encephalitis. An effective control program will not eliminate all mosquitoes but will keep the population at a reasonable level and will reduce both nuisances and the risk for mosquito-borne diseases. With human cases on the rise this summer, our best defense is knowledge of the virus and mosquito management.

West Nile Virus is a mosquito-borne virus contracted through mosquito bites. Only about 60% of people who have tested positive for the virus ever knew they were being bitten by mosquitoes, so it’s advisable to just assume they are out and about daily depending on where you live in the state.

People of all ages (including children) can contract the virus. About 20% of those who contract WNV (1 in 5) will come down with what is called “West Nile fever”; less than 1% of people will develop serious symptoms referred to as “West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease” which affects the central nervous system; the other 80% of those infected develop no symptoms of the virus.

Symptoms of West Nile fever can include:

Fever

Body Aches

Rash on the trunk of the body

Headache

Tiredness

Swollen lymph glands 

About 1 out of every 150 people with West Nile Virus will develop a severe infection resulting in encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). Severe illness can occur in people of any age; however, people over 60 years of age are at greater risk. People with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and people who have received organ transplants, are also at greater risk.

Symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis include:

High fever

Headache

Neck stiffness

Stupor

Paralysis

Disorientation

Muscle weakness

Tremors

Coma

How Mosquitoes become infected and transmit to humans.

West Nile virus transmission cycle

Virus transmission cycle (Image from Mayo Clinic)

After a mosquito feeds on the blood of a bird infected with West Nile Virus, the virus goes through a short growth period before it is capable of being retransmitted – as few as four days.

The infected mosquito, full of virus and ready to feed again, will look for a bird, human, or other animal for its next blood meal. This is the basic transmission cycle of the virus as it moves easily from bird (reservoir host) to mosquito (vector) and then – accidentally – on to humans or other animals. Humans, horses, or other animals do not expand virus transmission and are referred to as “dead end” hosts for the virus.

Mosquito Prevention Tactics

The best way to prevent West Nile Virus is to minimize the number of mosquitoes since that is the only way the virus moves from bird host to human in nature. Generally, the easiest way to deal with mosquito pests is to prevent them from breeding around us in the first place, and this is quite easy.

Mosquitoes need wet conditions to lay their eggs and grow from an aquatic larva into a flying adult a poor irrigation system can contribute to encourage breeding sites. HUMANS create most of the wet conditions used by mosquitoes in our state, and it is likely that many of us have mosquitoes developing in our neighborhoods and own backyards. We cannot eradicate every individual mosquito, but there are some very simple steps each of us can take to keep numbers low.

The most important single thing a school district can do is make sure school grounds are not contributing to your local mosquito populations. Check water catchment basins, storm drains, low areas, and equipment storage yards, athletic and playground equipment, especially, for places where water might be caught and held. Drain or treat with Bti dunks, or Altosid granules–both Green category insecticides.

Dense vegetation shown here can hide mosquitoes, ants and other pests make sure you are inspecting these area as well.

Mosquitoes typically rest in vegetation or other shaded sites during the day. If you have areas of vegetation or doorways where mosquitoes are a noticeable problem, consider treating such sites with a residual pyrethroid spray. This would be a Yellow category treatment and should be limited to known problem areas. Insecticides like deltamethrin, cyfluthrin, bifenthrin, and lambda-cyhalothrin can provide up to six weeks control on vegetation or building surfaces. They can be applied via hand-held pump sprayer, backpack mist blower, or power sprayer to doorways and trees, shrubs and ornamental grass around buildings and entryways. Do not allow students or staff into treated areas until sprays have thoroughly dried. Remember students cannot enter an area that has been treated with a Yellow Category product for 4 hours.

If the city or your district wants to apply ULV insecticides for pretreating sporting venues, posting and notification requirements must be followed and Yellow category justifications filed, as with any use of Yellow category product. ULV treatments usually use synergized pyrethrins (Green for products with less than 5% piperonyl butoxide), resmethrin or permethrin (Yellow). Mosquito control with such sprays is short-lived (few hours to a day) and should be conducted only when wind is less than 5-10 mph.

When it comes to IPM for mosquitoes, don’t forget educating students, parents, and staff. The district should consider notifying parents and students advising them to wear repellent to school or evening sporting events. Use of repellents on school grounds is something each school district must decide on. Personal use of repellents is not prohibited or really addressed by state school IPM regulations; however, they are addressed through the Department of State Health Services who considers repellents as part of an over the counter medication. If you haven’t done so, visit with your district’s head nurse make sure she/he is aware of your IPM program and the efforts you, your staff and your pest control contractor are doing everything they can do to help prevent mosquitoes. The Texas Department of State Health Services and many local mosquito control authorities have useful educational fliers and websites (see below) that parents should be aware of. School districts have a useful role to play in getting mosquito awareness information out to our communities. Consider linking this information in your school district’s website.

Resources and More Information 

Mayo Clinic West Nile Virus Website 

CDC website on Mosquitoes 

IPM Mosquito Management

TX Dept of State Health Services Mosquito-Borne Disease Prevention Website and here are their kid friendly resources link 

Mosquito Repellents

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Apply fall preemergence herbicide to avoid spring weeds

burrweed

As soil temperatures cool, now is the time to plan for preemergence herbicide applications to eradicate common cool-season weeds like annual bluegrass and lawn burweed, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

preemerge application

Applicating preemergence herbicides can reduce broadleaf and grass weeds in spring. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension photo by Adam Russell)

Chrissie Segars, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension turfgrass specialist, Dallas, said homeowners looking to improve the look and feel of their lawns by preventing annual weeds and burs should prepare to apply fall preemergence herbicides. Preemergence herbicides are designed to disrupt the germination and emergence of unfavorable plants.

Other fall and winter management practices like proper irrigation will also ensure turfgrass emerges healthy in the spring.

“Fall weed management is an important part of annual turfgrass maintenance,” she said. “It rids lawns of undesirable plants that compete with our turfgrass and helps your lawn get a good start in the spring.”

Ridding lawns of weeds

Preemergence herbicide treatments in the fall can help rid your lawn of grassy weeds like annual bluegrass and rescuegrass, and broadleaf weeds like henbit, chickweed, Carolina geranium and lawn burweed. Choosing the right herbicide can seem daunting, but AgriLife Extension has a number of publications dedicated to identifying weeds and herbicide selection.

Segars said preemergence active ingredients are an important consideration for tackling unwanted weeds. Products will typically list a range of plants it will control whether perennial or annual and broadleaf plants or grasses. Preemergence herbicides are most effective on annual weeds, while other weeds must be controlled with post-emergence applications.

burrweed

Lawn burweed is a common broadleaf weed that grows low to the ground in the spring. They typically go unnoticed until the tiny stickers are stepped on. Fall preemergence herbicides can rid lawns of the painful and pesky weed. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

“Having knowledge of seasonal, chronic weed problems will help you narrow down product choices,” she said. “Choosing the right active ingredient for your problem weeds and applying it correctly are very important to weed management.”

Segars said homeowners who are not comfortable handling or applying chemical products should contact local landscape professionals. You should always follow product labels and distance applications from desirable plants to avoid injuring them.

Preemergence herbicide applications

Segars said AgriLife Extension recommends the fall preemergence herbicide regimen to begin when soil temperatures reach approximately 70 degrees. This recommendation is commonly based on annual bluegrass – a weed that germinates when soil temperatures are below 70 degrees. This generally falls in September or October, depending on where you are in Texas.

“Don’t get into the habit of relying on the same calendar date every year; that’s why we have soil temperature recommendations,” she said. “Environmental conditions can be drastically different from year to year. Some weeds will germinate later in the season but applying products in a timely manner builds up a preemergence program that stays ahead of weeds.”

Segars said soil temperature probes, even probe-type meat thermometers, can help homeowners gauge application timing.

There are weather-related websites and applications that monitor soil temperatures and even give updates via notifications, she said.

Identifying which weeds you want to control is important for choosing the correct herbicide option, such as broadleaves and grasses or perennial and annual weeds, she said. Segars recommends granular herbicides for homeowners due to ease of application.

“For best results, we generally recommend at least one application of a preemergence herbicide in the spring and fall,” she said. “These two applications, if done properly, can greatly reduce the number of annual weeds in your yard.”

Segars said some homeowners may desire to make a second or split application of preemergence, and it’s a good idea to have both a pre- and post-emergence herbicide on hand for the second application.

“Herbicides aren’t 100% effective every time, especially if you have heavy rains following application or missed the desirable timing,” she said. “Having a mixture of a pre- and post-emergence product just ensures you catch any weeds that break through your original application while they are immature.”

Watering in the preemergence herbicide immediately after application using some type of sprinkler system is recommended. Typically, granular preemergence products need one-quarter to one-half inch of water to dissolve properly, but always follow product label instructions, she advised.

“It’s easy to water in the product, especially if you have an in-ground irrigation system,” she said. “It could be risky trying to time it with rainfall. So, I would recommend using a sprinkler and figuring out how much water it is putting out and how long you’ll need to water to correctly activate the herbicide.”

AgriLife Extension has information regarding irrigation and sprinkler audits that will help homeowners determine how long to irrigate specific amounts. For more information about irrigation, visit the Texas A&M Extension School of Irrigation.

Say ‘no’ to weed and feed in the fall

Weed and feeds are a common and popular product, but Segars does not recommend using them as a fall/winter turfgrass management tool.

“We’re entering a time when warm-season grasses are slowing down in a lot of the state, and we don’t want to fertilize them too late, especially with nitrogen,” she said. “Putting nitrogen down promotes growth, and a quick freeze could cause damage.”

Segars said the last nitrogen application should be no later than four to six weeks before the average date of the first frost.

Watering as seasons change

Turfgrass needs adequate soil moisture going into winter, but as temperatures fall, Segars said homeowners should dial back on irrigation. AgriLife Extension’s Water-Wise Checklist provides good year-round recommendations that will maximize irrigation efficiency and effectiveness. 

Approximately 1 inch of water per week is AgriLife Extension’s summer turfgrass irrigation recommendation for actively growing grass. But as fall nears, Segars said rains should be enough, and that allowing grasses to visibly wilt before supplemental water applications is a good rule of thumb.

“If we are receiving typical fall rains, you can turn the system off or just water as needed until the grass goes dormant,” she said. “You don’t want to overwater, but you also want to have some moisture in the soil, especially in areas that experience hard freezes. Having some moisture in the ground will help protect them from winterkill and sustain them through winter.”

Scout now for spring preemergence application

Segars said now is a good time to scout for summer weeds like crabgrass and sandburs. Sandburs are a warm-season perennial grass known for their spiked seed pods that grow at the end of the stem and drop or attach themselves to any human or animal passersby.

Spring preemergence applications typically start when soil temperatures reach around 50-55 degrees, which can be January to March based on location and weather conditions. 

“Make note of what weeds you have now, and prepare for spring preemergence application,” she said. “Identify the weeds you have and note where they are. Make a game plan for getting your warm-season grasses off to a good start in the spring.”

Written by: Adam Russell, AgriLife Communication Specialist 

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How Texas became leader in safe public school pest management

2 people looking at chairs
2 people looking at chairs

AgriLife Extension school IPM specialist Janet Hurley and Wylie Independent School District IPM coordinator Tony Jacinto inspect a storage space of stacked chairs for pest issues at Wylie High School.

Anyone returning to a Texas public school this semester is safer from pests and pesticides, thanks to a host of integrated pest control practices required by the state and taught to licensed professionals by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Requirements for integrated pest management, or IPM, in Texas schools were passed by the Texas Legislature in 1991. IPM is the practice of controlling pests with alternatives to pesticide. It employs other methods that consider environmental safety and human health.

New laws, shift in focus

Man in coveralls

AgriLife Extension state pesticide safety coordinator Don Renchie, Ph.D., leads school IPM training in an industrial school kitchen.

By the time school IPM became law, AgriLife Extension’s state pesticide safety coordinator Don Renchie, Ph.D., and urban entomologist Mike Merchant, Ph.D., had

already been training pest control professionals in safe application for schools across the state. They were steeped in collaboration with the Texas Structural Pest Control Board — of which Merchant was a member — to develop comprehensive curricula for the training.

“There had been major incidents of human contact with pesticides in Texas schools, due to application by unlicensed applicators, leading up to passage of the IPM laws in 1991,” Renchie said. “In Texas, we decided that our children were most important, and that’s why IPM is the law here.”

Only 23 states have school IPM laws or regulations, according to the National Pest Management Association.

As provisions of the Texas’ school IPM law took effect in 1995, Renchie and Merchant shifted focus to developing a training series for the IPM coordinator. This staff position is still required at every Texas school district today. They are responsible for ensuring safe school district spaces by adhering to all IPM mandates, existing and emerging.

IPM coordinators continue to be trained by AgriLife Extension, but the agency’s training reach, evaluation systems and advanced IPM techniques help make schools safer for Texas students, faculty and staff than ever before.

A boost for school IPM training in Texas

AgriLife Extension retired entomologist Mike Merchant, Ph.D., leads school IPM training.

In 2001, a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allowed Renchie and Merchant to hire AgriLife Extension school IPM specialist Janet Hurley, Dallas. The grant also created the Southwest Technical Resource Center for School IPM. Hurley joined AgriLife Extension as director of the center, whose education materials live on as part of AgriLife Extension’s comprehensive teachings. Her work to organize school IPM training across Texas dovetailed with a previous grant that Merchant and Renchie were awarded to create “The ABCs of IPM” video series. The series is still taught to IPM coordinators as part of state requirements.

By that time, she said, roughly 80% of Texas schools had fallen out of compliance with state IPM standards. Additionally, a more streamlined system for professional training was needed across the state.

Seeking solutions

“When I got there, it was six hours of training, pat ‘em on the back and ‘see ya later, bye,’” Hurley said. “I said ‘No wonder the schools look like deer in headlights with IPM standards.’ And my bosses said ‘well that’s why we hired you. Now what are you gonna do about it?’”

She began to develop — with Merchant, Renchie and EPA grant colleagues in New Mexico and Oklahoma — one-day and two-day school IPM trainings, which emphasized hands-on work. It is the same model AgriLife Extension uses to deliver emerging school IPM information today at the IPM Experience House.

house with bushes

AgriLife Extension IPM Experience House, Dallas

While Hurley worked to broaden AgriLife Extension’s reach, Renchie and Merchant could still lead school IPM trainings and focus on expanding responsibilities of entomology and pesticide safety — the overarching areas of urban pest management statewide.

Hurley created a map of Texas’ roughly 1,030 school districts and began reaching out to them with what she calls “the gospel of IPM.” By 2008, she built enough enthusiasm among Texas schools to form the nation’s first statewide association of school IPM professionals — the Texas IPM Affiliates for Public Schools. Before the group disbanded, it welcomed more than 1,000 attendees to its annual meeting between 2009 and 2014.

These early efforts all contributed to making AgriLife Extension a driving force in the unique success of IPM in Texas schools and beyond.

School IPM impact

people

Janet Hurley leads a school IPM training for school district IPM coordinators in North Texas.

Since 2002, AgriLife Extension has offered 234 full days of school IPM training classes and reached 5,861 participants from 1,638 school districts. Hurley’s efforts alone include 265 personal site visits to Texas school districts. She assists with compliance issues and helps IPM programs prepare for inspections and awards.

As a result of these efforts, more than 20 Texas school districts are winners of the IPM Institute of North America’s national IPM Star award — more than any other state.

Among the state’s recognized districts is Wylie Independent School District, whose IPM coordinator is Tony Jacinto. The district failed to meet state IPM standards in 2016, before Jacinto heard about Hurley and AgriLife Extension from colleagues in another district.

“At that time, I had no experience with IPM and asked Janet to come teach me the ABC’s,” Jacinto said.

By 2019, Wylie ISD had become one of Texas’ national IPM Star districts, and Jacinto had scored 103 out of 100 during the award audit — above a perfect score.

Hurley is also a strong supporter of the IPM Star award, which exceeds even Texas’ standards for IPM.

What’s next

Today, Renchie continues to train pest control professionals for licensing, and Merchant retired in August following more than 30 years with AgriLife Extension.

“It’s widely recognized that IPM adoption benefits health and the environment,” Merchant said. “These accolades and increased compliance numbers show that Texas schools are safer as a result of AgriLife Extension’s reach and work.”

Meanwhile, in conducting 75 regional two-day trainings and 84 one-day trainings since 2002, Hurley remains the most active coordinator of school IPM training in Texas, and likely in the U.S., Merchant said.

Janet Hurley“She has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Texas school districts and their IPM personnel,” he said. 

Through AgriLife Extension, Hurley also maintains a school IPM hotline and the Texas School IPM website, providing learning resources and training information. Her industry newsletter, School Pest News, is in its 137th edition since 2002, and it circulates to a readership of about 1,600 per issue. She is active in the International IPM  Symposium steering and awards committees and is on the National School IPM Steering Committee.

Over the next year, AgriLife Extension will expand IPM offerings with its public Residential IPM course series, which covers general integrated pest management for homes.

Hurley will propose a comprehensive research initiative to determine rat presence in Texas as well as the types of communicable diseases they carry, which remains largely speculative, she said.

“We’re just going to keep on building,” she said.

Written by: Gabe Saldana, Communications Manager, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center of Dallas

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SPN: Save the date for future trainings and more

In the fast-changing world, we are living in I am going to devote this newsletter to a variety of resources and upcoming trainings to help you navigate through these difficult times.

Over the summer, Shelly Branstetter, Membership Services Manager, TASB Facility Services; Joanie Arrott, Risk Prevention Services Manager, TASB Risk Management Services and I have been distance meeting to see how our groups can help better support you our clients. On Tuesday, September 10, 2020 from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM we will host our first webinar – Your COVID-19 Cleaning and Disinfecting Playbook. Sanitary facilities, equipment, and commonly touched surfaces reduce the spread of not only COVID-19 but also seasonal illnesses such as flu. During this webinar, our experts from TASB and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service will tackle cleaning and disinfecting public spaces, plus safe chemical management, during the COVID-19 outbreak. There will be a 30-minute question and answer period, we ask you to submit your questions when you register by emailing facilities@tasb.org and providing the following information:

  • Name
  • Title
  • Organization
  • Questions for the experts

While this is the first session, our goal is to hold these sessions at least monthly until December in hopes to help you still “meet” with your fellow IPM coordinators, facility managers, custodial staff and others that help support schools being open.  Our team knows it is YOU and YOUR staff that help keep the doors open pest and pesticide free, which includes your cleaning programs now. Be sure to reach out to the facilities@tasb.org email with your questions and to register for the Sept. 10th event.

School IPM Coordinator

This important training will still happen this fall in person at two locations. To attend these classes, you will need to register and follow social distancing COVID-19 precautions. This means participants will be required to wear a face covering during the class and be spaced out. This means we will be capping these classes so register early. At the same time, these courses will offer CEU credit for structural pest control and those with a 3A license as well, so make sure you enter your license number when you register.

Location: Address Dates 
Houston Area:  Conroe ISD 601 W Lewis St Conroe TX 77301 September 30 & October 1, 2020
Ector County ISD: ECISD Training Center  701 N. Vine Street, Odessa, Texas 79763  October 21 & 22, 2020

To register for one of these courses visit our conference services website at https://agriliferegister.tamu.edu/  Keyword: School IPM

Class time is 8:30 am to 5:00 pm a box lunch and snacks will be provided.
Advanced Cost: $210 for both days, $135 for one day only
Day of Event Fee $240 for both days, $155 for one day

Insect Identification

Did you know that AgriLife Extension Department of Entomology offers an Ask the Entomologist section? You can check out our digital image library to compare what you have with an image, find many of our factsheets, or you can upload an image for diagnostics. Check out this website https://askanentomologist.tamu.edu/ and be sure to bookmark for future reference.

Training for school staff on proper cleaning procedures.

This is a reminder that the OSHA Haz Com standard applies to workers, as does the respirator standard when an employee is required to use a respirator (including N95 filtering facepiece respirators) in some aspect of their job. Texas School fall under a requirement for all Texans to be trained when using chemicals, this includes cleaning

A new NIOSH webpage, Hazard Communication for Disinfectants Used Against Viruses, provides information on health hazards that could be caused by cleaning products and disinfectants. Also included are recommendations for barriers and respiratory protection that workers can use to protect themselves from these hazards. More at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/disinfectant/default.html

Review EPA Guidance on Indoor Air and COVID-19

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a new website addressing indoor air and the coronavirus, including information about ventilation and HVAC systems. The EPA also has a list of frequently asked questions.

Additional COVID resources provided by the National Pesticide Safety Education Center (NPSEC) and National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) in effort to have everything in one place.

 

Finally, the American Federation of Teachers held a webinar earlier this month.  The slidedeck link will take you to the recorded webinar that you can share with your staff.  

 “Cleaning and Disinfecting in Schools During a Pandemic” was held on August 12th.  This was their first webinar in their Road to Reopening Schools designed to discuss promising nuts and bolts strategies for a return to brick and mortar school buildings based on the best available and most current scientific evidence, as outlined in AFT’s ”Reopening School Buildings Safely” recommendations. This report, details the very basic conditions needed to open schools,-critical safety and health guidelines, and instructional considerations. For this four-part series, we will be joined by local leaders, district administrators, and experts in their respective fields.  

If you missed the live session, you can access our first webinar on Cleaning and Disinfecting on demand here: https://event.on24.com/wcc/r/2563524/BE6CF9C04A945B5BE815E69B2B2A2B8F.   Below is the description and list of guest speakers for this program.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

The goal of this webinar was to provide the latest information on the appropriate process for cleaning and disinfecting during the pandemic, why is it important and where does it fit in the interventions to keep students and staff safe. Discussion will include the steps to achieve disinfection and sanitizing during a pandemic, the elements of a cleaning and disinfecting protocol and the roles and responsibilities of staff and students in the cleaning and disinfecting process.

 Guest Speakers were:

Lynn Rose has worked for approximately 30 years in K-12 schools developing and implementing environmental health and safety (EHS) systems for all school departments.  In addition to her work on green cleaning and infection control in schools, Lynn has also worked on issues such as indoor air quality and the reduction of the use of toxic chemicals.  She has been recognized for this work through awards from EPA, the Massachusetts Dept of Public Health, Harriet Hardy Award from Western MassCOSH, etc. Her most recent award was from the National Pollution Roundtable for 2019 Educator of the Year.

Shari Obrenski is the newly elected President of the Cleveland Teachers Union. Shari is a proud public school advocate, having graduated from a public high school in her hometown of Jefferson, Ohio, as well as earning her B.S.Ed. from Miami University (Ohio) & her M.Ed. from Cleveland State University. Prior to becoming CTU President, Shari was an American History and Government teacher at Jane Addams Business Careers Center in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. She also serves at the 1st Vice President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

Eric Gordon is the Chief Executive Officer of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and has served in this position since June of 2011. He is responsible for the leadership and daily management of Cleveland’s 37,000-student school district.  Now in his ninth year as CEO, Mr. Gordon is the longest serving superintendent of the Cleveland Public Schools in over forty years

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SPN: School reopening does any of this impact my IPM and IAQ program?

As everyone is trying to figure out how to educate children during the COVID-19 pandemic, the question on everyone’s mind is how to do this by keeping schools clean? The guidelines from CDC, For a Safe Return to School in Fall 2020 and the Texas Education Agency’s two documents Public Health Planning Guidance and School Reopening Guidance Summary give some advice on how to open your school; however, it’s limited in the actual directions of what, where, and when to clean. In an IPM program the first step is to understand the pest you are dealing with and come up with your solutions. For us it’s understanding the virus and how it spreads, to develop a plan on which areas of the school need deep cleaning everyday or regular cleaning that has been done by custodial staff in the past. Many of the steps outlined can seem extreme, but it all depends on where you are located and what is going on in your community as relates to COVID positive cases on what you need to implement.

The Virus

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans, which has led to a variety of changing information. COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person. Some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, instead it is those airborne droplets we exhale every minute of the day. Check out this article, COVID Analysis, for a visual on how the virus can be spread indoors.

How to Protect Staff and Students

In all the guidelines that are being offered to help schools open, the one term I feel most have lost sight of is “mitigate”. The definition of mitigate is to make less severe, serious, or painful. In most cases this means good cleaning practices, social distancing (keep out my personal space) and wear a face covering over the mouth and nose. During flu season, school nurses and administrators remind kids to wash their hands, cover their cough, stay home if you are sick. These are the same principals we all need to remember with COVID.

The larger challenge for schools is ensuring everyone has enough personal space. Instead of four students sitting at a lab bench in chemistry class – it will be one student. Cafeterias will no longer serve buffet style, instead it will be served in the classroom, or box style with limited human contact.

One of the main pathways’ researchers have determine COVID is spread indoors is through those heavy droplets we exhale and then “float” in the air. One of the recommendations is to open windows and doors. There are two reasons we typically do not do that in TX; 1) it’s hot and 2) what pest will fly or crawl in. Instead, think about the ventilation system on each campus, make sure filters are changed, vents are clean, and more importantly the return air area is clean as well. If the weather permits, let kids outside to play or read. Also make sure staff understands that in the teachers lounge they too must follow all the guidelines as well.

Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sanitizing

These three terms have been used so often and a lot of people believe that by doing these processes you can completely kill the COVID virus. At the same time, many believe that if you engage in these processes that you can keep the COVID virus away for days, which you cannot. Schools are being asked to mitigate the spread of the virus, not eradicate the virus. Let us look at the three terms:

  • Cleaning is the process of removing unwanted substances, such as dirt, infectious agents, and other impurities, from an object or environment.
  • Disinfection the process of cleaning something, especially with a chemical, to destroy bacteria.
  • Sanitize make clean and hygienic; disinfect

The Department of Family and Protective Services and Department of State Health Services define sanitizing. They recommend for the sanitizing process to be effective; you must follow these four steps in order:

  1. Washing with water and soap at least 2 minutes for hands
  2. Rinsing with clear water.
  3. Soaking in or spraying on a disinfecting solution (at least two minutes). Rinsing with cool water only those items that children are likely to place in their mouths.
  4. Allowing the surface or article to air-dry.

DSHS has this DYI- disinfecting solution:

  1. One tablespoon of regular strength liquid household bleach to each gallon of water used for disinfecting such items as toys and eating utensils (high touch items) 
  2. One-fourth cup of regular strength liquid household bleach to each gallon of water used for disinfecting surfaces

When it comes to cleaning materials the next big question is the use disinfecting wipes by the staff. While these are convenient, cleaning wipes require some common sense be used if you choose to use these in your school district. First, they are pesticides under the U.S. EPA Federal Insecticide Fungicide Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Under FIFRA pesticides must have two statements; 1) signal word (Caution, Warning, Danger) and 2) child hazard statement (keep out of reach of children), these requirements are to alert the user that these products require personal protective equipment and cautionary use around children.  Second, using these cleaning wipes for a quick cleanup is great, but to keep things like door handles, common use items (fridge handles, faucet handles), and in food preparation areas use the sanitation steps above. Should you wear gloves when using these wipes? If teachers and staff are going to use these daily to wipe down the head phones, keyboards, desk tops, paint brushes, microscopes, etc. (items the kids touched) then yes, they should wear a pair of disposable gloves that way they are protected.  Our hands are very porous, hence why it’s so easy to transfer the cold and flu, but we also must protect ourselves from cleaning solutions entering our system as well.

Many administrators have been introduced to the EPA List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) and many IPM Coordinators are now being asked if the products used on this EPA list fall under the school IPM program?  The short answer is no – in TX, the school IPM rules only pertain to pests that harm buildings, turf, humans, or other living things. The custodial cleaning and disinfection products that are used in schools have always been registered as pesticides under FIFRA. No matter the products you select you still need to train staff on the proper use of these products which includes reviewing the Safety Data Sheets. While that is not part of the school IPM rule, it is part of the Right to Know and Hazard Communication acts that require employers to ensure their employees are adequately trained.

Do I need to post? No, not unless one of the products you use require you to do so. If you are doing deep cleaning, using a misting type device, or some other type of cleaning that requires the employees to be protected, then you might want to think about notifying employees of these efforts. Again, read that pesticide label, the label is the law.

Finally, all cleaning and disinfecting products can be harmful to humans if used improperly. Improper use can be as simple as not wearing the right personal protective equipment to spilling a bottle of cleaner. If the product you are using has a signal word and keep out of reach of children that is the first step to understanding personal use protection. While we all want schools to open, we must also understand that in these indoor environments we must also be cautious about how many products we are using inside each room each day. In this white paper by Beyond Pesticides, The Intersection of Pesticides and the New Normal under Coronavirus they discuss many of the ways students and staff can be harmed by too much use of common cleaning products and hand sanitizers.

In August I will be working with EPA, TASB and others to offer some additional webinars on this topic and back to school pests in general, so watch your email for those announcements. 

 

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EPA Healthy Schools Newsletter Debut

Howdy everyone,

Region 6 EPA sent out a Healthy Home and Schools newsletter.  It’s four pages of useful information June 2020 Healthy Schools CF

Topics include: notes for nurses, information for custodians, Sunwise information to protect everyone during summer, plus ways to stay safe at home with simple tips to keep the house healthy too.

While I have your attention, let me introduce you to the newest page on the school IPM website – Recorded Webinar Events on this page are several recordings of webinar events that you can watch.

If you missed the Ask the Expert events, they are there.  Want a short video to show teachers, volunteers or friends about the Asian Giant hornet there’s a video for that. There are even links on cleaning and disinfecting that should be helpful.

Finally, Facility Executive is a digital magazine that offers a great insight into the school campus during the pandemic.   Dr. Brittany Campbell, National Pest Management Association (NPMA) reminds everyone what to be on the lookout for. Pest Management For Vacated Schools

 

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Disinfectant safety during the COVID-19 pandemic

Image of woman sneezing viewer sees all the droplets in the air

As you prepare to open your campuses to students and staff, here are a couple of items to help you prepare.

1. The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) will hosting a webinar on 

Remember to read the label, washing hands after use should be exercised by anyone using these products without gloves.

Disinfectant safety during the COVID-19 pandemic

Wednesday, June 24  at  1:00 pm Central 

In this webinar NPIC will address common misconceptions and questions about disinfectant safety. They will also tour EPA’s online tool for products effective against COVID-19.

Topics include:

There will be time for questions after the presentation and we will post the webinar recording to the NPIC website soon after. Webinar attendance is limited. 

Registration is required, click here to register: https://oregonstate.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_xDLVDXf2RdWftX-nmXdVAw

This presentation is for the public; disinfectant users in education, health care, and other professional settings; and tribal, state, and federal agencies.

2. The Longer-Term Effectiveness of Home Asthma Interventions

Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at 2:00 pm EDT

Since 1980, the biggest growth in asthma cases has been in children under 5.

Research supports that community health worker led healthy homes interventions improve asthma outcomes among children. But how effective are these programs with adults, and what is the longer-term effectiveness of these asthma interventions? This is a key consideration when measuring the economic impact of asthma intervention programs. Two researchers will present their findings from long-term multifaceted home environmental asthma intervention projects with older adults and children in diverse low-income households.

Presenters

David A. Turcotte, ScD, Research Professor, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Helen Margellos-Anast, MPH, President, Sinai Urban Health Institute, Sinai Health System, Chicago, Illinois. 

Target Audiences

OLHCHH grantees; Federal agencies with related programs; HUD/OLHCHH field staff; University-based Healthy Homes educators; Health Care Providers; and many other stakeholders.

Registration Link  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/266550612932733966

3. EPA Advises Facility Operators to Prepare for Hazardous Weather Events

2010 rains, flood waters submerged a Cheatham County school bus, vehicles, and Kingston Springs Elementary School

With June marking the start of hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reminds facility operators of requirements for preventing, minimizing and reporting chemical releases. Facility operators are obligated to maintain safety, minimize releases that do occur, and report chemical or oil releases and discharges in a timely manner, as required under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and/or the emergency planning provisions of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act and/or the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan.

“The people of Texas and Louisiana know that with the environmental, economic, and recreational benefits of the Gulf Coast also comes the responsibility of preparing for hurricanes and other hazardous weather,” said Regional Administrator Ken McQueen. “As with every hurricane season, EPA encourages coastal businesses to prepare their facilities and employees for whatever the weather might bring.”

Unlike some natural disasters, hurricanes and tropical storms are predictable and usually allow facilities to prepare for potential impacts. EPA reminds operators of some basic steps to prepare for hazardous weather:

  • Review procedures for shutting down processes and securing facilities appropriately—especially hazardous chemical storage—or otherwise implement appropriate safe operating procedures.
  • Review updated state-federal guidelines for flooding preparedness, available here.
  • Assure all employees are familiar with requirements and procedures to contact the National Response Center in case a spill or release occurs.
  • Review local response contacts, including Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and State Emergency Response Centers (SERCs). A list of these contacts by state is available here.

Prevention and reporting requirements for facilities are available at https://www.epa.gov/natural-disasters/hazardous-weather-release-prevention-and-reporting.

In the event of a hazardous weather incident, please visit https://www.epa.gov/natural-disasters for updated emergency information. 

You can also visit the Texas Extension Disaster Education Network   which covers more than one disaster.  

 

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SPN: Summer work in the age of COVID-19

No matter where you live these days you have been affected by COVID-19.  Some of us can work from home, while others have been reassigned and some have not been able to work.  However, as June 1st approaches many of us will be returning to our work environments with new social distancing guidelines.  These guidelines also require all of us to change our behavior on how we interact but also how we will need to implement strict cleaning procedures.

So how do you maintain your IPM program and follow these guidelines?

As you and your staff regain entry into your buildings it’s important to understand that you might have a variety of pest control issues.  While the humans have been away the mice, roaches, ants, bats, and myriad of other insects have had a free rein of your buildings.  As staff start to enter your buildings this is a good time to reinforce how they need to report these pest findings.  Making sure that staff doesn’t use their own chemical controls is still essential to ensuring your IPM program stays in compliance.

Now is a good time to conduct those facility inspections.  Finding those vulnerable areas where pests enter your buildings will aid in making sure you don’t have bigger problems in the fall when everyone comes back to school.  One of the resources we developed several years ago was the IPM Calculator that allows you to conduct a full inspection on your school campuses and give them a score.  Once you set up an account, you can access a PDF inspection checklist and then once you have inspected your campus, you will input that data into the system.  Once everything is entered from that campus and you hit submit, our system will then calculate the risk your building has for pests.  Nothing will get an administrator’s attention is when you give them a score of C, D or F on their building.  Or knowing that you have buildings with high scores (A and B) so that you know which campuses need extra attention.  Remember inspections are the backbone of any IPM program and can help you put into place exclusion methods to keep the pests outside.

Moving outside watch your perimeter for wasps, hornets, bees, and yellowjacket nests.  Texas is home to over twenty different species, and they are largely beneficial.  However, it is important to watch the eaves and soffits of your buildings to keep from nests becoming problematic.  Simple steps like using a webster to knock down paper wasp and mud dauber nests are something even a custodian can do.  Watching for bees and yellowjackets nests is also essential, these insects tend to build their nests in cracks and crevices in hidden areas behind large bushes.  Typically, they go unnoticed for months and become a problem in September and October, so now is the time to train custodial staff to be aware of their surroundings.

The other outdoor insect that can move indoors and thrives outdoors is ANTS!  But don’t despair we have a new online course Ants 101 that can educate about the most common ants of TX and give you CEU credits as well.

Hands and Face

The blue shading it to remind you that everytime you touch a surface you are transferring germs

If you have ever attended a CEU workshop, school IPM training with AgriLife Extension or pesticide safety training with Dr. Don Renchie then you have heard him say this; “Hold out your hands, now say with me these are the nastiest things on your body.”  Hands can transmit all sorts of germs, but in our pesticide safety classes we also discuss that hands can also transfer pesticide chemicals as well.  One of the exercises we have used in our trainings is apply a dye that when the lights are turned off it shows how we transfer from objects to our bodies.  I found this video from the BBC that uses this dye to show how coronaviruses are spread.  Remember the common cold virus is a coronavirus so when you practice good hygiene you are protecting yourself and your family.  The other video I found is something you can share with staff, teachers, and kids it’s on how germs spread.  This is a good reminder about all the nasty things we encounter.

Finally, I would like to direct to the Texas Association of School Boards website on COVID-19.  This week I participated in webinar from the Risk Management group on How Will COVID-19 Impact Summer Maintenance Work? While most of us leave this topic to administrators I highly recommend you sign up for their newsletters and check out their website as well.  I have always promoted the risk manager in your district as an important part of your IPM program. Here is your reminder to go introduce yourself to that person and take a few minutes explaining your IPM program to them.  They can be your biggest champion as what happens with pests can impact the entire district as well.

One last item: I am planning to host a couple of webinars in June where you will have a chance to ask our experts on insects and turf management.  Keep on your eye on your email and feel free to follow me on social media the Facebook page on school IPM is where I post a lot of information that I don’t put in the newsletter.  Don’t Facebook then you can find me on Twitter @JanetDHurley or Linkedin all three accounts are linked to my social media postings.

Remember we are here for you, please let me know how we can help your district as you return back to work.

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Warm weather means more ticks: Texans, take care outdoors

American dog tick
American dog tick

The American dog tick is one of the most common species found in Texas. (AgriLife photo by Wizzie Brown)

As the warm weather draws more and more Texans outdoors, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts want people to be aware of the danger ticks pose.

Ticks are blood feeders in all life stages and can transmit pathogens that can lead to disease transmission,” said Sonja Swiger, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension entomologist, Stephenville.

“While we do see tick-borne disease here in Texas, our rates are much lower than many other states,” she said. “However, people need to be aware and vigilant. That is the only way to stop them.”

Where ticks are found

Swiger said since ticks can’t fly, the only way to be exposed to them is by entering their space or by catching them from an animal that has picked them up.

Unfortunately, ticks can be found pretty much anywhere.

“Aside from if you’re in a concrete jungle, there can be ticks,” Swiger said. “They can be in overgrown brush, a field, forest, park, tall grasses and anywhere there is wildlife.”

Given that many people have been inside more than normal due to COVID-19 and social distancing, Swiger said we do not yet know what that will mean, if anything, when it comes to ticks. Most ticks only live outdoors unless they hitch a ride into a home on a human or animal host.

“Since people haven’t been outdoors as much, that may mean some areas haven’t been mowed in a while or brush hasn’t been cleared. We’ve also seen wildlife coming into some urban areas more during these periods while people have been staying indoors. Will that increase exposure? We just don’t know yet, so people need to take precautions.”

Ticks are something people need to be aware of year-round, although as the weather warms their populations swell, typically peaking in the summer and then declining in the fall. Swiger said we are at the start of their “plentiful season.”

Tick awareness and prevention

As Lyme Disease Awareness Month ends and many people plan to be outdoors for the Memorial Day weekend, now is a good time to review how to protect yourself and your family from these arthropods.

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease, with an average of 30,000 cases a year reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lyme disease can also affect pets. There are numerous other diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia that ticks can transmit to people. Ticks are also responsible for often-deadly diseases in livestock such as cattle fever.

Lone Star ticks gets its name from the single silvery-white spot located on the female’s back. (Image by Ed Freytag, NOLA)

There are 11 common species of ticks found in Texas. The black-legged tick, brown dog tick, Lone Star tick, Gulf Coast tick and American dog tick are the species the average person is most likely to encounter. The TAMU TickApp for Texas and the Southern Region is a helpful tick identification and resource tool.

Ticks typically like to latch on to people’s head, hair, chest, armpit, groin, waist and back of the knees, so be extra vigilant when checking these areas. Headwear and light-colored clothing that protects as much skin as possible is also a good idea if you’ll be outdoors where ticks are present. Pants should be tucked into boots to minimize the odds of bringing an unwanted bloodsucker home.

“Check yourself after being outdoors,” said Swiger. “Also check your pets if they have been outdoors.”  

Swiger said people who let their pets sleep in their bed with them need to be extra vigilant.

Around your home, keep lawns mowed, brush trimmed and weeds whacked. Be especially diligent about the areas around swing sets, sand boxes and children’s play areas.

Since rodents are part of the tick-borne disease cycle, eliminate places they like to live and hide. Try to avoid having brush piles and keep any building materials and gardening supplies off the ground.

If a tick is found, it can be removed with tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the head as possible and pull straight out. If the head breaks off under the skin and cannot be removed, or if any pain, lesion or a rash develops, contact a doctor. If fever, headache, joint pain, muscle pain or swollen lymph nodes occur within 30 days of a tick bite, you should also inform your doctor.

“We don’t want this holiday weekend to be a perfect storm for ticks with the warmer weather, a lot of people outdoors and perhaps more overgrown brush than usual,” Swiger said. “I don’t want people to worry, I just want people to be aware.”

Written by Susan Himes, AgriLife Communications Specialist. 

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