Updated September 2022
Before (or after) reading this list, don’t think “everything has lead.” Because that is not true! But here are lists I’ve compiled of things and foods that can be likely to have high lead levels.
According to Lead Safe Mama… there are LEAD FREE options for ALMOST EVERYTHING on this list. The exceptions to this are most faucets (the only truly lead free ones are from Germany), plug in waffle irons (the cast iron ones without plugs should be ok), air fryers (I use the Instant Pot one, which may be safe but I don’t think has been tested) and supplements – items for which she has not yet found any truly consistently Lead free options.
To prevent getting overwhelmed, try to keep things in perspective and focus/ prioritize to avoid the biggest risks/ ways kids are actually lead poisoned (I’d say the first 4 on the list) first, like paint dust. Many of the others are easy to avoid or swap for safer products. Remember also that children and pregnant or nursing moms are most at risk, so you can start by swapping their things (such as children’s dishes) and moving dangerous things out of reach.
THINGS THAT CAN HAVE HIGH LEAD
-Paint, especially on houses built before 1979. This is the biggest risk. See my posts on Facebook about it. Even until 2009 household paint was allowed to contain up to 600 ppm. The max is now 90 ppm. Also, “marine paint” for boats and things can still contain high levels, and many people use it on their decks and entryways. Also, paint used for things like fire hydrants and the lines on roads can still contain high levels.
-Water pipes/ plumbing until the mid 80s. It’s recommended to buy a house built after 1989 to avoid the paint and pipes issues. This can be huge risk. Here is a link from the EPA.
-Dirt/ soil (usually from lead paint dust or past leaded gas). This has caused lead poisoning in children.
-Anything vintage or antique including furniture, old varnish. They present the same hazard as lead paint on walls. Dark antique furniture is often high in arsenic in the finish – especially if it has the original finish.
-Ceramic Dishes, especially antique. If they are new (recent – past 5 years) they are likely non-leaching, but likely contain at least some level of lead and so are not ideal long-term. Mexican ceramics is often highly leaded, in some cases even if labeled lead free.
-Ceramic glazed /coated cookware including crockpots
-Crystal drink ware and decorative items, including wine glasses and “light catcher” balls. crystal glassware is highly risky to drink out of; lead leaches into drinks, especially alcoholic ones. Can also include crystals used as stones in jewelry.
-Stained glass (in the solder); this is a pretty big risk because it can create lead “dust.”
-Brass, including brass door knobs. Here’s a link to a post I made with additional sources.
-Cookware (pots and pans) (sometimes). See my blog.
-Vinyl (anything vinyl…), cricut vinyl, vinyl records, thick clear plastic storage bags, tablecloths, Vinyl blinds, vinyl flooring/ laminate, window clings, faux wood countertops.
–Toys: Kids plastic and wooden toys, especially the paint (puzzles included, though not often). Toys were not restricted to 90 ppm before legislation in 2011 that took effect in 2012. Since then, if something is marketed and labeled as being for children’s toy, especially from a mainstream brand, they should be lead-safe. Metallic painted plastic things may still be risky, especially from knock off brands. In some areas of the U.S., up to 35 per cent of poisoned children were exposed to lead in items brought into the home, such as toys (link).
-The plastic eyes and hard plastic attached to stuffed animals. If they are on modern toys, probably not a huge concern, but You don’t want kids chewing on or swallowing these.
-PVC: Childrens soft plastic toys, other soft plastic, measuring tape, older electrical cords. Also sometimes in the paint on clothing, especially if “puffy” and raised.
-Anything with warning labels that say things like “age 14 and up” “not for children under 16” or “for decoration only/ not a toy” means that the item wasn’t tested to ensure lead restrictions, so it could contain high levels of heavy metals. Note that the “not for children under 3” is simply a warning for small parts/ choking /suffocation, so if those items are sold for children, they are likely lead-safe.
-The enamel painted writing on glass baby bottles, glass milk bottles, measuring cups, pot lids etc. Plastic tends not to have this issue. White writing is riskiest.
-Faucet fixtures; usually because they contain brass. Sometimes the brass isn’t in contact with the water flowing through. Here is a link to water test kits. Everyone should test their water.
-Vintage colorful Pyrex milk glass bowls. They lead in the decorative paint rubs invisible lead onto your hands and gets spread around.
-Keys. These can have actual lead dust that can rub onto your hands, purse, etc.
-Meat grinders. Tamara Rubin says all meat grinders she has tested have had components that were positive for Lead (normally cast aluminum). This could mean that hamburgers from restaurants etc could have unsafe levels of lead, because when we look at lead contamination in food the processing is a primary source. hard question. The fact of the matter is – by choosing to eat processed food we assume a level of risk. IF you can find a meat grinder where all of the food contact components are stainless (which – again – I have not seen, but they might be available – perhaps at a restaurant supply store?) I would get your own all-stainless grinder and grind your meat at home.
-Some vintage colorful Tupperware measuring cups and kitchenware.
-Marci gras beads (sometimes. If marketed specifically for children they might be safe)
-Kitchen aid mixer paddle and cord. Here are all the kitchen aid mixer tests. You have to scroll through some other kitchen aid stuff. They do make safe attachments but they are pricey
-Ceramic hand held lemon juicers
-Handheld garlic presses. Look for plain stainless steel to be safe
-All rice cookers heating element
-Lead aprons at the dentist can have it on the outside
-Purple crayons (sometimes). See lead safe mama for better brands like Filana. As long as your kid is not eating them – any European colored pencil is good.
-Lipstick and makeup (see my blog)
-Zippers and hardware on clothes and accessories/ purses (sometimes). Also vintage buttons (so be careful of kids putting in mouths).
-Granite, particularly from Florida.
–Books (Ink and covers) before 1986 if it is paper and ink. 2011 if there is anything in or attached to the books that is not made or paper and ink… like a touch and feel book, a sound effect book, a book with musical instruments, etc. cc’d When lead was phased out of house paint, it was mostly phased out of printer’s ink as well. The rule didn’t take effect until 1986, but most books from the late 70s onward did not contain lead. Here is info about green covers with arsenic.
-Galvanized steel (containers, trash cans, picnic tables, restaurant decor, telephone poles, road barriers, etc)
-Bathtubs, especially older ones including clawfoot. The biggest risk here is drinking the bath water, which happens often with kids.
-Electrical/ martial arts tape (duct tape is ok though).
-Chicken wire fence. There is a stainless steel alternative but it’s pricey.
-Vintage or used cast iron because it may have been used for smelting lead. New cast iron is safe.
-“Reclaimed” materials including wood, brick and car tires.
-Leather and faux leather (sometimes)
-Clay cat litter
-Toothpaste if it contains bentonite clay or calcium carbonate
-Hydrogen peroxide (in brown bottle). Food grade is fine. Supposedly in the stabilizers added to the kind in the brown bottle (not the food grade kind). I’m still trying to get definitive proof, but it has been stated so many times I suspect there is truth to it.
-Hunting and fishing gear (bullets, sinkers, etc)
-Artificial Christmas trees (almost ALL of them except ikea and a few other new ones), often in Christmas lights and ornaments and decorations too. See my blog post.
-Jewelry and hair accessories. Gold often contains mercury, things sold as silver can have cadmium. Faux pearls can be leased. These can all be dangerous because many people play with their jewelry or even put them in their mouths when fidgeting. Real pearls are lead free.
-Ceramic tile. Not a huge lead risk to be around unless it is cracked, broken, or is being cut or demolished.
-Old playground equipment.
-All synthetic turf, tire surfaced playgrounds (aka rubber mulch or rubber poured-in-place).
-Pianos: Vintage and antique pianos can be leaded in the stain/varnish, and I have read they may have lead weights in the keys too. Also, if the seat is vinyl, that could be leaded as well. And the pedals might be leaded brass.
-Salt lamps (sometimes)
-Gym equipment and dumbbells: the paint and the vinyl of the pads often have lead in older (and even some newer) equipment (sometimes).
-Sealing dots on double walled thermal stainless steel water bottles; only really a risk if the dot is exposed.
-Silicone can have cadmium; the main risk of leaching is when heated. Clear silicone has less risk.
-Anything with warning labels that say anything like “age 14 and up” “not for children under 16” or “for decoration only/ not a toy.” It’s unclear whether the ones that say “not for children under 3” could also be because of lead (but that warning is often about choking).
-Oil rubbed bronze
-Mineral Sunscreen. Badger supposedly has 2.8 ppm (2800 ppb) lead. Most sunscreen is well under 2ppm (2000 ppb) (most is below 1ppm (1000 ppb). while no amount of lead is safe, many people agree that sunscreen shouldn’t be an excessive concern. Others avoid sunscreen as much as possible. If you do use it, try to wash your fingertips off to prevent ingestion through the mouth. It’s debatable which forms can be absorbed through skin, but it is possible to absorb some lead through skin according to research shared by Dr. Gregor.
-Ink used to dye or printed on clothes (sometimes). But Lead Safe Mama hasn’t found lead in modern cloth items, though it may be possible.
-Real sterling silver silverware. depends on the age – 1950s and newer is fine – antique can be toxic
-Guitar strings (sometimes)
-Iridescent/rainbow glass (sometimes)
-Also be aware if things such as telescopes; lead is in the prism in the lens. Prisms are often leaded crystal. As far as I know this is not a large risk.
-Gel wrist rests (like for computers) I’ve only seen one of these tested, but worth keeping in mind so children don’t play or mouth these to be on the safe side.
-Vintage 3 ring binders (new ones should be fine)
-Stethoscopes- lead in the PVC tubing
–List of some stores that still sell things with lead.
FOODS THAT CAN HAVE HIGH LEAD
This list was compiled by looking at The Total Diet Study, the book Food Forensics, and Lead Safa Mama, which are great sources of info on lead levels/ risks in food, but all have their limitations.
–baby food (link to one of many mainstream articles)
-sweet potato (peeling helps and avoiding processed forms)
-sunflower seeds/ sunflower butter (sometimes; cadmium too),
-spinach (cadmium too)
-Candy with artificial colors/ imported from other countries
–cassava, plantain, tigernut, tapioca, arrowroot flours
-tea and matcha
-beets (and potentially other root veggies)
-Mulberries, Goji Berries
-hemp seeds (sometimes)
–metallic /“luster” dusts and decorations on cakes/baked goods.
-seafood contains other heavy metals including mercury. Seaweed can too, as well as anything from the ocean including salt (see my salt blog).
-Rice, because it can contain high levels of arsenic. If I do make rice I use Lundberg brand and I go through all the steps of soaking and cooking like pasta. Jovial might be a good brand too. EWG has lots of great info on this topic.
-Mushrooms are pretty high arsenic too.
-peanuts can have cadmium
-baking powder (not baking soda) can have aluminum.
-here’s an old source from Canada which lists chewing gum as being high
-bone broth (sometimes; this one is controversial)
-I avoid all canned food
-anything powdered or machine processed can be risky.
-anything grown in heavily leaded soil.
-Fulvic acid (see this post I made about it)
List of food products found in violation of Prop 65 (meaning they contain things known to cause cancer).
Note that organic foods are just as likely to have lead. It is well known that metals get into food from the soil and/or from processing, and organic foods also grow in soil and are often processed. The USDA organic program has no testing or limit provisions for heavy metals as part of the program. Therefore organic foods are at just as much risk. That’s why you still see prop 65 warnings on organic food, and testing that has been done on things like spices, baby foods, and tons of other food has shown just as much metals or sometimes more compared to non -organic foods.
It’s important to know that just because a food contains lead, doesn’t mean that all the lead is absorbed by your body. Absorption can vary between people, and children are much more likely to absorb more. Less lead is absorbed when consumed with any food, so I mention in my other blogs to take supplements with food. See section below for more information.
*More about chocolate: The popular opinion about chocolate is usually that in moderation you shouldn’t worry. Lots of foods have some heavy metals in them, so it’s impossible to completely avoid heavy metals in food. When you consume lead, any food in your stomach will help you absorb less metals, which is why you don’t hear of lead poisoning from food very often. I have read that iron and calcium also help bind to metals so that less is absorbed. Different people may absorb things differently (so I take it with a grain of salt when people say they eat a lot of chocolate but test ND) and children usually absorb more.
I did look into safer chocolate (link to my blog post) and didn’t find anything I felt truly was guaranteed to have less metals. Even the one that Lead Safe Mama uses isn’t lead free; it is just less likely to have high levels based on how it is produced. Not having a prop 65 warning is good, but I still consider that a high limit, and if they don’t have the warning label, they still might be higher than the limit and just gambling that they won’t get caught.
When I found myself needing chocolate for a recipe, I bought carob, which can also have high heavy metals, but I bought from
The Australian Carob Company, who does testing.
That said, once in a while I do eat chocolate (but I do avoid it and never buy on purpose) and my kid does too (from my husband; ideally I wouldn’t give her any). The thing I say about kids is that if they never have something, they don’t know they are missing out on anything. But once they have it, they often don’t understand the concept of moderation and having things only once in a while. So I would hold off as long as possible and as much as possible.
Another alternative to hot chocolate is teecino, a chicory tea. But to be honest neither Carob nor chicory really tastes like chocolate, but still makes a nice substitute. My daughter has had real chocolate but loves the carob just as much (I call it chocolate to her).
Link and another about heavy metals in chocolate. If these links mention testing on chocolate that was done years ago, I wouldn’t use that as a buying guide now. Also, levels can vary from batch to batch. Any time you eat chocolate, there is a high likelihood there are significant levels of metals.
WHERE DOES LEAD COME FROM?
Where does lead in food come from? Watch out for companies who try to play it off that it’s naturally occurring in trace amounts. It is NOT really naturally occurring in soil or air … some soil has very high amounts from past (or present in other countries) dispersal through humans, such as use of leaded gasoline.
Some plants and minerals are more likely to suck it out of the soil. From what I’ve read on this… it depends on the vegetable. Plants do absorb lead into their roots and stems so root vegetables would have more lead. “Fruiting” plants like tomatoes and zucchini are pretty safe as the lead doesn’t go into the fruit. Fruit trees are fine. Leafy greens and herbs are risky because the contaminated soil can actually be on the leaves and if you don’t wash them well enough then you’re consuming the soil.
Some products like cacao can also get it from processing equipment.
ARE THERE LAWS/ LEGAL LIMITS FOR LEAD?
Here is an article about how the laws changed in 2018 and what the limits are. “(FDA) reduced the maximum allowed daily intake of leadfor children from 6 to 3 micrograms per day (µg/day). It has also set a limit for adults of 12.5 µg/day, to protect against possible fetal exposure in women who are unaware they are pregnant and to reduce infant exposure during nursing. The agency now refers to these limits as the “Interim Reference Level” to match the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) terminology for elevated blood lead levels that warrant action.”
The FDA lead limit in candy meant for children is 100ppb, juices 50ppb, and dried fruit 100ppb. According to the CDC, “Lead has been found in some candies imported from Mexico. Certain candy ingredients such as chili powder and tamarind may be a source of lead exposure. Lead can get into the candy when drying, storing, and grinding the ingredients are done improperly. Ink from plastic or paper candy wrappers may also contain lead that leaches or seeps into the imported candy. Lead has also been found in certain spices imported from Vietnam, India, and Syria among other countries [as well as some traditional remedies].
There is no “safe” level of lead… but it’s complicated because people debate about absorption rates, and also the ability to possibly handle certain levels of lead. It may vary from person to person. A few foods do have limits imposed, but in the opinion of people like me, the limits don’t go far enough. So it’s good to avoid lead where we can, but we can’t avoid it altogether in food. The presence of food consumed at the same time as lead does decrease its absorption though.
There is less regulation than you might think. No regulation for things like dishes, cookware, and decorative items.
Things for children ages 12 and below are supposed to stay under 90 ppm. This wasn’t enacted until 2012! This link says: “The following criteria are considered reasonable for the classification of toys that are likely to be sucked, mouthed, or ingested: (1) all toy parts intended to be mouthed or contact food or drink, components of toys which are cosmetics, and components or writing instruments categorized as toys; (2) toys intended for children less than 6 years of age, where there is a probability that the parts or components of the toy would come into contact with the mouth. See Note 4 of Section 220.127.116.11(1)(a). Therefore, if your product is age-graded as intended for use for children age 6 years and above, and is not likely to be sucked, mouthed, or ingested, it does not need to be tested for the eight metals. Remember that regardless of this analysis, the CPSIA requires that all accessible components of children’s products meet the lead content requirement of 100 ppm. Please review our lead guidance page.”
HOW TO TEST ITEMS FOR LEAD
You can hire someone with an XRF gun (be sure they truly know how to test consumer goods), or use 3M lead testing swabs. Be sure to read up on limitations of both. Dust wipe samples would show if the item is degrading at a microscopic level and creating lead dust. These have to be sent to a lab for analysis. Food items would need to be analyzed in a lab, and it’s costly.
What About Bioavailability/ Level of Risk?
Also note that not all lead on items is leachable bioavailable lead. Simply touching leaded items doesn’t necessarily mean that it will get on hands (though in some cases it can) and contaminate everything the person touches. ATSDR has a recently updated toxicity profile for lead. Dermal exposure info is on p287. I hope to edit my lists further to clarify which things are likely higher risks based on touching/ usage.
Lead Safe Mama says: “I focus on uncovering / revealing the PRESENCE of Lead simply because as consumers we cannot test every item for bioavailability. If we have only lead-free items in our home we don’t need to worry about bioavailability.”
She also says: “I don’t have a huge concern for decorative items that children don’t interact with this. The exceptions for this are crystal, lead painted items (including works of art / paintings), leaded brass and lead lines in leaded [stained] glass. Paintings should be behind glass. Vases are not a huge concern – I am fundamentally against decor that is not a family heirloom or fine art (I think we don’t need that kind of clutter in our house.)” Her exceptions are things that “chalk” or create lead dust.
PREVENTING LEAD EXPOSURE
There are some simple steps you can do to prevent or minimize lead exposure.
- Wash hands often, especially before eating, when coming home, and before going to bed. This is very important for children.
- Remove shoes before coming into your house.
- Damp dust or mop your home instead of dry dusting or sweeping.
- Vacuum with a HEPA vacuum.
- Eat a healthy diet with variety. Studies have shown that vitamin c, calcium, and iron may help prevent lead absorption in children.
- Do not store or serve food or drinks in imported pottery or leaded crystal.
- Be aware of the products you are buying and where they are made.
Preventing Absorption of Lead in Food (this is also in my salt blog):
I think most people would say that as long as you have a good rotation of foods, you don’t need to worry about it too much unless you eat a lot of high lead foods. If you don’t have history or current exposure to heavy-metals, it’s probably not as much of a concern. Children absorb more than adults, and pregnant women can transfer lead from food they eat to their unborn babies. Personally I do ask for COAs (Certificate of analysis) for anything that might contain lead.
This isn’t about worrying that food will cause lead poisoning. Some people choose to avoid lead because it’s toxic in minute amounts. And just because some people consume or are exposed to lead and test ND, certainly does not mean that whatever they ate was safe and it doesn’t affect anyone. Some people choose to avoid lead because it’s extremely toxic, not because we are afraid of lead poisoning or because it’s all or nothing. It’s important to consider taking a close look at products we use a lot, and some people eat quite a bit of the same foods every day. I make the best effort I can even when there are #noperfectoptions
While I do think it’s good to have an idea about lead in foods and avoid eating a lot of foods likely to have high levels, there are a few reasons not to get overly paranoid and keep things in perspective.
For all of these, do remember that children absorb more than adults do, so it is good to be more prudent about lead in baby and children’s food, as well as other lead exposures. Also for all the reasons listed, that is why the consistent exposures like in a home with lead paint impact BLL so much – the assault is non stop so the body can’t get ahead of the ability to metabolize. And also because the lead is not in food and it is often getting into the body consistently throughout the day while the stomach is empty as well. Which is worst-case because you absorb most of what goes in. This is one reason why it’s super important to make sure that children in homes that have lead risk are fed at least every two hours. Their little stomachs empty so often, you want to ensure that there is some food in their bellies to make sure that any lead is going in has a buffer of food to reduce absorption.
1. Dr. Greger from NutritionFacts that cited studies showing that if you took in food with your lead exposure, it can block up to 90% of the absorption. The lead we get from food can be buffered tremendously just by being in food. In regards to salt and spices, this is again another reason we don’t hear of lead poisoning from these sources. Vitamins do have lead too, so it is recommended to take them with a meal. Another reason environmental lead exposure (like in water or paint dust) is so nefarious is because it’s NOT in food. The food buffering is discussed here.
So because lead absorbs exponentially higher on an empty stomach, if you know you are living in a high lead environment, keep feeding the children around the clock. Any food will help to slow or limit the absorption.
2. Nutrients that may have impacts: Vitamin C appears to be helpful. This scientific paper talks about low levels of vitamin C being associated with higher lead levels. There is some data about vitamin C helping iron absorb over lead. Do space dairy/milk/cheese from the iron foods. It’s not the milk per se – they think it’s the lactose that increases lead absorption and decreases iron absorption. It’s not proven foolproof science but they did find that milk inhibited iron absorption and also seems to allow more lead to absorb than if there was water instead of milk for example.
Here is a great resource about Nutrients that reduce lead poisoning.
3. There are guideline limits per day by the FDA to keep your blood blood levels low; I believe it’s 3mcg per day for pregnant/breastfeeding/children and 12mcg per day for others. I am still really uncomfortable with adding unnecessary lead. But, it is impossible to avoid some lead in food. The reason you don’t see lead poisoning from things like salt is probably because it doesn’t it probably isn’t used in big enough quantities to put people over these limits.
There is also a publication that talks about the ability of the body to purge lead up to a certain degree. I will try to find that and link it here but essentially, the body can take in something like 3mcg per kg of body weight per day before it stops passing it through and starts to retain it. Participants in the study were given lead in food and then the lead was measured as it exited. Essentially up to that threshold, the body was able to rid the lead. Once you crossed that threshold, retention occurred. If you do the math, it’s quite a lot. So that’s why I said, it’s good to be aware of lead in food but not necessarily get paranoid about it.
RELATED BLOGS I HAVE WRITTEN
Hyperlinks that include better options:
HOW TO GET LEAD BLOOD TESTING
Some pediatricians will automatically recommend testing children at 12 months old, but you may have to ask. Often their test doesn’t give you an exact number unless it’s over 3.3. Anything less than 3.3 usually comes back as “less than 3.3”. To get an exact and more accurate number, they have to pull from the vein, not just a finger stick. Labcorp goes below 1. Some labs go down to 0. A level of a 1 can cause lifelong issues, so it’s recommended to ask questions and find a way to test to as low thresholds as you can get. The blood test will only reflect the past month of exposure.
The lead safe mama website/ blog, explains so much about why lead is harmful and which products have it.
Also you can join the lead safe mama fb group.
This link from My Chemical Free House and NBM. “ Testing for Lead in Tiles, Faucets, Bathtubs and other Building Materials.”
Dr. Greger also has great resources about lead.
There is a group for support if you feel you have any kind of OCD or high anxiety about lead. Let me know if you’d like a link.
HOW TO FIND THINGS WITHOUT LEAD
Someday I might have an Amazon store with my affiliate links to lead free products such as this product: https://amzn.to/35aoaDa
Materials such as unfinished wood, stainless steel, modern clear glass, modern hard plastic, and resin are usually lead free.
For lead-free items, check out Lead Safe MaMa’s store
Here is Natural Baby Mama’s blog on non toxic, lead free baby bottles. She has a store too.
When purchasing anything used, ask if the item has ever been in an old building/ house. Also note that spreading mold spores is possible from moldy houses. If you see items listed for sale and want to let the seller/ potential buyers know there is a risk, you could comment something like “oh has this item been tested for lead? Oftentimes older items like this could contain lead in the metal or finish. Thanks!”
WARNINGS ABOUT “DETOXING”
A note about detoxing and the product called “TRS.” I do not currently recommend this product. It is a man made product without testing on long term effects. Also, it has not been proven that the product itself does not contain heavy metals. Zeolite does not have research that supports it excretes metals, the tests showed the opposite (lower levels leaving which means more in the body not less). Many people rave about TRS, but keep in mind it is a MLM product and I hear the company and it’s groups delete comments that speak negatively of it. I also read that it’s unlikely to be able to chelate heavy metals. What it is likely doing is improving people’s gut health, which is why the might feel better from it.
I also don’t recommend colloidal silver.
DO NOT DO RANDOM DETOX STUFF ON YOUR OWN!!!!!! Understand phase one (mobilizing out of storage in the body) and phase 2 (moving out of the body), because you could make that lead go straight to the brain with the wrong plan. Always support phase 2 (getting it out of your body) well; that’s what people mean when they say to make sure your detox pathways are open; otherwise you could just be mobilizing the metals and causing them to circulate and redistribute, instead of leaving the body. I don’t believe that detox baths do much of anything for metals.
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