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My new fish tank is cursed.

I’ve had a Convict Cichlid in the same 10-gallon tank for eight years with absolutely no problems. He is approximately the diameter of a softball, so I decided to upgrade him to a larger, 30-gallon, tank. That was nine months ago and he’s been swimming in ammonia ever since. I’ve done everything that I know to control this problem, and it still persists. Here are some of the details:

Ammonia and water chemistry:
The total ammonia levels are usually off the scale of my test kit (greater than 8 ppm). Sometimes I’ll test the water after a partial water change, and the level is still at the very top of the scale, which tells me it was over the scale before the dilution. Nitrate/nitrite levels are usually zero. pH is usually around 6.4 (even though I use a 8.0 powder buffer). There are times I’ve been able to get the ammonia levels as low as 0.5 ppm, but that was usually only after a period of very low feeding and several water changes. I have a color-strip meter inside the tank that indicates the level of only the harmful ammonia ion. According to this meter, although I have very high levels of total ammonia (as measured by several test-kit brands), the level of toxic ammonia is sometimes “low”, but usually “low-medium”. I attribute this to the slightly low (6.4) pH. I think this is the only reason my fish is alive (albeit rather ill). The temperature is the green zone, mid- to high- seventies.

Water changes:
I’ve tried different strategies over the past nine months. At one point I was doing 33% water changes daily. This sounds excessive, but was one of the only effective ways to keep levels low. I worried that may be too frequent…perhaps too frequent to allow beneficial bacteria to take hold. Therefore at other times I stuck to weekly 33% water changes in the hopes of not flushing out the colonizing bacteria before they took hold.

Water filter(s):
I started out with a bio-wheel filter designed for a 30-gallon tank. This was grossly inadequate, so I added a second filter also rated for a 30-gallon tank. The second filter was not a bio-wheel, but instead pushed water through three stages (mechanical, carbon and bio-substrate). The second filter eventually became clogged several months ago during a bacterial bloom—so clogged that it became inoperable, so I replaced the second filter with another bio-wheel. I therefore had two 30-gallon bio-wheel filters. The wheels eventually became colonized with a greenish film, which I assume was the beneficial bacteria. I would change the carbon filters about once per month. I actually only changed one carbon insert at a time so as not to remove too much biomass all at once.
At one point both bio-wheels became clogged during a bloom. The intake tubes, the carbon inserts and everything else became so clogged that the water flow was reduced to a trickle. The bio-wheels dried out. As I proceeded to clean the two filters I noticed a very disgusting orangish-brown slime in each of them. It smelled so horrendous that I instantly threw both of them out (more on this topic later). I decided that bio-wheel filters are useless and instead decided to go with the system I currently have. I removed all of the gravel and installed an under-gravel filter system (which is the type I had in my original ten gallon tank). I also installed a Fluval canister filter, which has several levels of filtration, two stages of carbon and one stage of those white ammonia-absorbing rocks. I’ve had this dual-filtration system for about two months now, and yes I still have at least 8ppm of ammonia.
When I first installed my Fluval canister filter, I decided not to touch it for 1 month, in order to allow it to do its thing and hopefully colonize. After one month, I opened it to check on things. I noticed that the white ceramic particles, which are meant for bacteria to colonize had begun to get some spots on them, but were definitely not saturated with colony; they were mostly still white. The first (mechanical) stage is a sponge, which was coated with a greenish-brown slime. I don’t know if that was colonizing bacteria or not, so I left it alone.

No solid waste or rotting food:
I also suck up any particulate matter or detritus from the bottom of the tank with a water vacuum whenever I do a water change, so I do not have any solid waste or rotting food in the tank. No live plants either.

Fish symptoms:
My fish’s symptoms vary over time. Before I realized I had an ammonia problem he began to swim in circles and became spastic. At times he would remain at the bottom of the tank,listless. Most of those problems cleared—to an extent—once I began trying to manage this problem. At other times his fins have been eaten away (by some kind of pathogen I presume), and he has chronically had hole-in-the-head disease. I believe this is because his immune system has been compromised due to ammonia and malnutrition at times. At one point he lost most of his color and became really sluggish. I immediately increased his food amount. His color and behavior improved after this, but at a cost of soaring ammonia levels. I am constantly trying to toe the line between not giving too much food in order to avoid ammonia, but not giving too little in order to avoid starvation. As a result, his symptoms vary over time.

What do I add to the water:
With every water change, I add an appropriate amount of water conditioner, usually aquasafe brand. I also add an 8.0 pH buffer powder (an amount appropriate for this size tank). I previously used a 7.0 buffer of a different brand, but this factor seems to have no bearing on the issue. I also add the recommended amount of “Ammo Lock” chemical (about a capful every other day). If you are not familiar with Ammo Lock, it is a chemical that does not eliminate ammonia, but it binds it into a form that is harmless. Sometimes I add more than the recommended amount of Ammo Lock, particularly if the ammonia levels become drastic. I also add capfuls of solution that contains beneficial bacteria designed to speed up colonization. I’ve used a few different brands. At one point I also added a lot of those white rocks that absorb ammonia. I poured the rocks into filtration bags and put the bags in the tank. This did very little to help and I eventually stopped using them.

Blooms:
I’ve had a couple blooms, and I think they were blooms of beneficial bacteria. The water would become cloudy, my fish would start breathing heavily (low oxygen as the bloom is breathing a lot of it up), and shortly after that my filters became clogged. I also had some dark-green growth on all sides of the tank. I’m not sure if it was the beneficial bacteria or algae. It was the same color as the stuff that had colonized the bio-wheel, and I think it was around the time I had added an anti-algae tablet. The dark-green stuff would sometimes come off in sheets/strips; I do not know if bacteria will adhere that way or only green algae.

Food:
I was initially overfeeding him 2 or 3 frozen brine shrimp pellets per day (this is what I’ve been feeding him for the past eight years). Once I realized this was too much, I drastically reduced his feeding to one medium sized Bio-Gold brand dry cichlid pellet (the pellets are around 3 mm in diameter). I feel that this is not enough food. Sometimes I’ll give him two of those pellets per day, but if I give too much the ammonia levels go even higher, so I am trying to strike a balance…not so much food to raise ammonia, but not so little that he is undernourished.

I’ve never had problems with this fish in his old 10 gallon tank. I wish I had kept the tank, I would totally put him back in that one; I don’t know how much longer he can withstand this toxic tank from hell. It’s been nine months, and I’ve done everything I can imagine. So my question is simple. WTF?? Seriously, WTF?



I actually have a second question, which may be related to this, but it is too long to add to this thread. It is about an extremely horrible-smelling brown slime that I have found in the tank. I'll try to title that thread "brown slime, horrible smell", or something similar.
 

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Brown slime, smells absolutely horrible

This thread is related to my other thread entitled, "persistent ammonia (9 months). I've tried everything". In addition to my persisting ammonia problem, a brown slime keeps growing in the tank that smells absolutely horrible.



Something disgusting:
At one point my two bio-wheel filters became totally clogged after a bacterial bloom of some sort. When I looked inside the filters I saw three colors. I saw the dark, greenish brown that you normally see in the filter and that smells like a lake-bottom. In addition to this however, I saw two other colors that just didn’t look right. There was a white slime. It wasn’t fuzzy like the white mold you get on food pellets that were left uneaten. It was a slime of some sort. Worst of all was the orangish-brown slime. It was somewhere between the color of peanut butter or perhaps caramel. It didn’t smell like either of those. The smell was so horrible that I literally gagged. It didn’t smell like the pungent lake-bottom smell that I’ve normally come to associate with fish-tank gook. It smelled like feces from a sick person. There is no way this can be good, I thought to myself, so I immediately threw both filters away and bought new ones.
That was a couple months ago. I now have my under-gravel filter (the kind that uses an air pump) and a Fluval canister filter. I’ve recently noticed that the bubble tubes of the gravel filter have become coated with dark slime, the carbon inserts at the top of each tube have also been coated, as well as the air stones. So I removed the bubble tubes in order to clean them and replace the inserts and once again gagged. That light-brown slime was in there (as well as the white stuff). Whatever it is, it seems to preferentially colonize areas that are well oxygenated (such as the air stone). The air stone and inner walls of the tubes were coated with this stuff and it smelled as awful as last time. I looked at some images online and it kinda looks a little bit like Diatoms, but I never read anything about diatoms smelling so god-awful. What is this horrible orangish-brown stuff? Is this the beneficial bacteria? Am I making a mistake by disposing of it?
 

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Welcome to Tropical Fish Keeping forum.

First, stop using the pH buffer. Clearly it is not working, and this is very stressful to any fish. The natural hardness of your tap water may have its own buffering capacity and it will continue to counter the product.

We will need some more info.

Tap water: have you tested it for ammonia? What is the hardness (you can find this out from the water people, many have websites with water data posted)? And what is the pH?

You are correct in linking toxic ammonia to pH; in acidic water ammonia changes to ammonium. Test kits read ammonia/ammonium as "ammonia". [Your internal ammonia device is different.]

Byron.
 

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Welcome to Tropical Fish Keeping forum.

First, stop using the pH buffer. Clearly it is not working, and this is very stressful to any fish. The natural hardness of your tap water may have its own buffering capacity and it will continue to counter the product.

We will need some more info.

Tap water: have you tested it for ammonia? What is the hardness (you can find this out from the water people, many have websites with water data posted)? And what is the pH?

You are correct in linking toxic ammonia to pH; in acidic water ammonia changes to ammonium. Test kits read ammonia/ammonium as "ammonia". [Your internal ammonia device is different.]

Byron.
Oh, that's a good question. I had previously tested the tap water by itself. It had no ammonia that could be detected. pH was 7.0. As for hardness, I do not know exactly. My water pipes will gradually get a small amount of white (calcium?) build up on the faucet, but compared to other places I've lived it is a small amount and takes a long time to build. The water doesn't have a particularly strong flavor to it that I've noticed either. That is all I can really say about potential water hardness at the moment until I get a chance to ask someone around here who might know.
 

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Oh, that's a good question. I had previously tested the tap water by itself. It had no ammonia that could be detected. pH was 7.0. As for hardness, I do not know exactly. My water pipes will gradually get a small amount of white (calcium?) build up on the faucet, but compared to other places I've lived it is a small amount and takes a long time to build. The water doesn't have a particularly strong flavor to it that I've noticed either. That is all I can really say about potential water hardness at the moment until I get a chance to ask someone around here who might know.
Check for a website from your city/municipality/region.

What are nitrates in the tank?
 

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Although it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, you report high ammonia, with zero nitrites and nitrates suggesting this 'new' 30g has never cycled.
Perhaps all the additives you've added to date have prevented the beneficial bacteria from developing???

Just my $.02, but now that you have both the UGF and the Fluval, discontinue all the additives except for the WC conditioner like StressCoat (I know you use another) that treats for chlorine, heavy metals and has aloe.
Discontinuing all the additives and just doing water changes and having patience may be your answer to getting the tank to develop the necessary beneficial bacteria and cycle.
 

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I would switch to using Prime and do a very large water change. Add only the tap water and the Prime, nothing else. IMO something your adding is giving you a false positive with the test kit. Ammonia does not stay present for 9 months and despite it being a cichlid 8ppm is more then enough to be fatal.
 

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Check for a website from your city/municipality/region.

What are nitrates in the tank?
Here are the must current levels:
33% water change done yesterday, these results were taken today...
Total ammonia: 4.0 ppm
Nitrates: 0 ppm
Nitrites: 0 ppm
pH: 6.0 (or lower; this was the bottom of the scale).

I was curious to see what contribution my various additives may be having on pH, so I did several tests.
Tap water only: 7.2 pH
Tap water + AquaSafe water conditioner: 7.2 pH
Tap water + API 7.0 buffer powder: 6.8 pH
Tap water + Ammo Lock ammonia detoxifier: 6.8 pH
Everything combined...tap water + AquaSafe + buffer powder + Ammo Lock: 6.8 pH
 

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Just curious - but a pH of 6 seems low for convicts - don't most cichlids like their pH around 8?? So I'm not sure why you are using a buffer....

I agree with Bryon to stop using the buffer - most fish will adapt to your tap water pH anyway (I only said most - not all)

I'm not sure but I think the ammonia lock will give you a false reading - so I would repeat the tests of the ammonia levels in just your tap water - then with several water changes over the course of a couple of weeks - that should lower itself - but the readings do look like you have an uncycled tank.
 

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Here are the must current levels:
33% water change done yesterday, these results were taken today...
Total ammonia: 4.0 ppm
Nitrates: 0 ppm
Nitrites: 0 ppm
pH: 6.0 (or lower; this was the bottom of the scale).

I was curious to see what contribution my various additives may be having on pH, so I did several tests.
Tap water only: 7.2 pH
Tap water + AquaSafe water conditioner: 7.2 pH
Tap water + API 7.0 buffer powder: 6.8 pH
Tap water + Ammo Lock ammonia detoxifier: 6.8 pH
Everything combined...tap water + AquaSafe + buffer powder + Ammo Lock: 6.8 pH

Any chance you can get a water quality report for your county? Sometime they are available online. I'm interested in what water hardness is GH or KH. It almost looks like you are dealing with soft tap water that does not have enough buffering capacity to hold its pH.
 

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Any chance you can get a water quality report for your county? Sometime they are available online. I'm interested in what water hardness is GH or KH. It almost looks like you are dealing with soft tap water that does not have enough buffering capacity to hold its pH.
I'm still looking a bit for water hardness levels, but unsuccessfully so far. All of my searches come up with irrelevant things like "middlesex county EPA estuary water quality reports", or links to companies selling water filters.

The pH for convict cichlids is a bit different than most cichlids, which prefer 8.0. Convicts are often cited as having a wide preference range between 6 - 8 pH. I chose a 7.0 buffer in hopes of holding in right in the middle of that range so that it wouldn't gradually become to acidic as wastes accumulate. It obviously doesn't work very well. I'll stop using it for now.

I can do more frequent water changes like I used to (daily). I eventually settled on weekly for fear of changing the water so frequently that a stable balance (or cycle) can't be established. Its been nine months. The fact that the tank hasn't begun to cycle is just absurd, especially considering the fact that I've also seeded the tank with a variety of commercially available beneficial bacteria cultures. I was unable to find the ideal pH range for the beneficial bacteria, but I've wondered if this low 6.0 pH is retarding their growth.

I could switch to a strategy whereby I eliminate the use of Ammo-Lock and buffer as you suggest and rely instead on more frequent water changes.
 

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It is important to focus on one issue and resolve it first, and obviously the most critical now is the ammonia. The pH can remain where ever and the fish will not be overly affected as opposed to fluctuating pH which can cause permanent issues and even death. Once the ammonia is resolved, consideration can be given to pH adjustment. Knowing the hardness is crucial for this, otherwise we are stumbling in the dark.

We need to collectively find the ammonia cause and resolve it. I am with Mikaila on this, something is likely affecting the test.
 

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I have noticed you did not mention anything about your substrates and how old are the filters. if you are assuming the filters are changed periodically, disreguard the filters but a long term over-used active carbon cartridge will leak materials and chemicals back into the water.

Noticing that you have done alot to your tank, I prefer to do a 100% water change, with no chemicals other than Prime water conditioner. This would allow your tank to be free of all that chemical you added previously (well most of it, trace will be there since you have used it). and possibly start the cycle over.

if tap is comming out 7 and ur tank is comming out 6.4 there must be something acidic in your tank. do you use any driftwood or stones acidic stones(most stones are basic but there are some that are acidic)? And I believe that the ammonia does contribute to the lowering of the pH but I believe that the ammonia cannot cause a drop of .6 on the pH scale because i believe that your ammonia cannot be giving a 6x10^-8 molar solution to cause this drop.
 

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I have noticed you did not mention anything about your substrates and how old are the filters. if you are assuming the filters are changed periodically, disreguard the filters but a long term over-used active carbon cartridge will leak materials and chemicals back into the water.

Noticing that you have done alot to your tank, I prefer to do a 100% water change, with no chemicals other than Prime water conditioner. This would allow your tank to be free of all that chemical you added previously (well most of it, trace will be there since you have used it). and possibly start the cycle over.

if tap is comming out 7 and ur tank is comming out 6.4 there must be something acidic in your tank. do you use any driftwood or stones acidic stones(most stones are basic but there are some that are acidic)? And I believe that the ammonia does contribute to the lowering of the pH but I believe that the ammonia cannot cause a drop of .6 on the pH scale because i believe that your ammonia cannot be giving a 6x10^-8 molar solution to cause this drop.
I am currently changing the carbon on a monthly basis.

Well, the water comes out of the tap at about 7.2 and after I add the chemicals it is 6.8 (as of today I am doing water changes without the chemicals, only the water conditioner). Then at some point the pH gets even lower to 6.4 or its current value of 6.0. My assumption has been that the 6.0 is due to accumulation of uric acid and other waste products. I would be interested in placing some of my gravel in some tap water for a day and see if it has an effect on pH. There isn't much else in the tank other than that.
 

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I am currently changing the carbon on a monthly basis.

Well, the water comes out of the tap at about 7.2 and after I add the chemicals it is 6.8 (as of today I am doing water changes without the chemicals, only the water conditioner). Then at some point the pH gets even lower to 6.4 or its current value of 6.0. My assumption has been that the 6.0 is due to accumulation of uric acid and other waste products. I would be interested in placing some of my gravel in some tap water for a day and see if it has an effect on pH. There isn't much else in the tank other than that.
It is completely normal and natural for the pH in an aquarium to lower over time. The creation of CO2 by fish, plants and bacteria [most CO2 occurs from the bacteria breaking down organics] adds carbonic acid to the water and the pH naturally drops; the same thing would happen if you were to diffuse CO2 into the water. The rate it does this depends upon several factors, primarily the hardness of the source water--which is why we have asked for these numbers--along with the number of plants if any, number of fish and their size, amount of feeding, any wood or leaves in the tank, water change schedule, etc. Each of these has an effect, but the latter may be countered largely by the hardness.

My tap water pH is 7 or 7.2, and my tanks run at 5 or 6 depending upon the specific tank. My fish are all wild-caught soft acidic water fish. Livebearers would die within days in my tanks.

What is occurring is not necessarily bad, but this we won;t know for certain until we know the hardness, both GH and KH.
 

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Have read through this thread and considering all of the products that have been, or are being used,,(Ammolock,bacterial additives,ph buffer's, I would have zero confidence in ANY test result's and would wonder if all of this was necessary in the old ten gallon?
Were it me,(and it ain't) I would use only a water conditioner such as PRIME and tapwater in the tank.
I would change the water once each week at amount of 50 percent.
If fish survived in old ten gallon tank without all of the measures being taken in this tank, I would consider that and act accordingly.
The only test kit I would use is API freshwater master kit.
If ammonia levels posted are accurate,,the fish would have died long ago.It is possible that gunk under the undergravel filter could be contributing to ammonia levels and if undergravel filtration is still in operation, then cleaning under the plate by using gravel vaccum inserted in lift tube, or suction hose from canister should be done regularly or,,,you could employ reverse flow undergravel filtration by purchasing a powerhead or two capable of reverse flow which will prevent gunk from building up under the filter plate by forcing water down the lift tube and up through the gravel where the canister or HOB filter can clean the water.
If you managed to keep this fish in ten gallons you can keep it in 30 gallons by replicating what you did before.
There is nothing wrong with the pH from your tap or tank in my view. If it were otherwise,,fish would have expired year's ago.
 

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It is completely normal and natural for the pH in an aquarium to lower over time. The creation of CO2 by fish, plants and bacteria [most CO2 occurs from the bacteria breaking down organics] adds carbonic acid to the water and the pH naturally drops; the same thing would happen if you were to diffuse CO2 into the water. The rate it does this depends upon several factors, primarily the hardness of the source water--which is why we have asked for these numbers--along with the number of plants if any, number of fish and their size, amount of feeding, any wood or leaves in the tank, water change schedule, etc. Each of these has an effect, but the latter may be countered largely by the hardness.

My tap water pH is 7 or 7.2, and my tanks run at 5 or 6 depending upon the specific tank. My fish are all wild-caught soft acidic water fish. Livebearers would die within days in my tanks.

What is occurring is not necessarily bad, but this we won;t know for certain until we know the hardness, both GH and KH.
I use the API master kit for all of my tests. Although my fish (it is just one fish in the tank) has been quite ill, the reason he has not died is because the values of 8 ppm are for the total levels of ammonia, but do not indicate how much of that is in toxic form. I have an in-dwelling test strip that indicates the amount of toxic ammonia varies between "safe" and "caution" ranges. Although not particularly precise, these do at least let me know that most of the ammonia is currently in its non-toxic form. I attribute this to the temperature and lower pH value in the tank (if the temperature and pH were higher, more of the non-toxic ammonia would convert to its toxic form).

After searching for quite some time (town municipalities websites are not the most organized or content-driven out there), the closest I've been able to determine for water hardness values are the following:

Ca: 15.8 mg/L
Mg: 5 mg/L
Total: 20.8 mg/L

So the water here is quite soft.
 

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Question

Did you add a chemical that changes ammonia into a safe substance for fish to live with? If so, your tests will still see that there is ammonia present, but wont tell you it's toxic or non-toxic. To fully remove ammonia from your tank, I would get some kind of resin...
-Me.. I've learned my lesson the first time from setting up a new tank.. went and bought ammo chips/carbon right away to put into my filter inserts... Not only will this clear my water.. but will also clear my tank of any ammonia for up to 4 weeks. I made sure to get a slightly larger (40oz) container of this substance for only $13.00.. versus buying 20oz for $7.00. Anyways.. I lost fish to ammonia before when I setup my first tank... I wont lose fish to ammonia ever again. :p

The resin I got is called API's "Ammo-Carb". Really, you can get just the Ammo chips for cheaper, but because it was a new tank, and my water was rather foggy.. I got the carbon with it too. This is sold at Petco, and other LFS.

I hope this helped...
 

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I know what the green slime is.

In one of my ten gallon tanks several months ago, I was holding 10 green terror fry. Ammonia went through the roof, and blue green algae took over (Cyano). As far as I can tell, Even Cyano struggles with extremely high ammonia levels, since eventually it turned this horrible brown-orange color and peel off in sheets. Shortly after that, my fish all commited suicide.

I agree that your ammonia is the main problem, since ammonia is toxic to everything- even bacteria.
I doubt that the bacterial blooms were from the beneficials... Beneficials live on surfaces, not in the water column. (A lot of old books got that fact wrong.)

I also agree with 1077's comment, that the tank has suffered through a lot of chemicals. At high ph, ammonia converts to ammonium. I would throw away the buffer first. Go to a farming supply store, and get some powdered dolomite limestone. Add it in a filter sock, or simply dump in. Normally you want to be able to remove it, but the ph won't go over 8.2-8.5 in a worst case scenario, and your cichlid won't mind.

It might also work to get some duckweed if you can get it cheaply... Plants will basically turn ammonia into growth. Ammo-chips or ammo-carb is also a good idea.

Have you tested your water directly from the tap? (for ammonia)
I doubt your gravel lowers PH- it's probably the bacterial and algal actions.
 
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