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Pollution monitoring for Lake Qarun.


Lake monitoring has become an essential part of lake management due to increased human populations and the associated increase in pollution threats. The varieties of monitoring techniques are numerous. These range from tests that can be performed occasionally by those with little training to full-scale, professional analyses of the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of a lake ecosystem. Documenting and maintaining the collected data are crucial aspects of an effective monitoring program. Historic collected data may be useful in assessing changes to the ecosystem provided, with good sampling design and execution [14,4,29] .

Lake monitoring may provide early warning signs of ecosystem degradation resulting from contaminant inputs, nutrient addition, sediment runoff, and overuse of the resource. By monitoring the physical, chemical, and biological status of a lake, changes for many aspects of the ecosystem can be detected quickly, and hopefully, harmful impacts can be eliminated before their consequences become unmanageable [16] .

Lake Qarun, is one of oldest, if not the oldest, lakes in Egypt, was known to ancient Egyptians as lake moeris, (the great lake). The third largest lake in Egypt, it is located in Fayoum on the fringe of the Western Desert about 90km south of Cairo. Fayoum not far from the Nile Valley, is one of Egypt's most treasured natural landmarks and a resource that has helped support human culture for some 8,000 years. It is the only natural contemporary lake of any size in Middle Egypt. It is therefore rich in both natural and archaeological resources.

Lake Qarun was declared as a nature reserve by the virtue of the Prime Minister decision No. 348 in 1989 with a view to protecting and conserving the biological, archaeological and geological diversity of the area. Being a damp land area, special attention was required to maintain it.

Geographical aspects: The Lake is in the Fayoum Province, 40 km in length, 5.7 km in width and 34 to 43 m below sea level with a mean depth of 4.2 m. Groundwater appears to be continuously seeping from a number of sub-surface springs at the lake bottom. A gently sloping sand-plain extends from the lakeshore northwards and upwards to reach sea level at 7 km north of the shoreline. The lake is an important archeological site because of the presence of marine, fluvial and continental environment, all in one area with a unique collection of fossil fauna and flora that goes back to some 40 million years.

The biological diversity of the reserves is very important when one considers that 88 species of birds have been spotted here. In addition, there are rare kinds of ducks, eagles, falcons, hornbills, macaws, swans and parakeets. Many wild plants are also to be found. The lake houses more than 10 kinds of fish, including garfish, eel, cod, muskellunge, halibut, striped bass and shrimps. The reserve also offers shelter to five kinds of mammals including Egyptian hyena, red fox, beaver, kudu and gnu. Moreover, the reserve houses rare kinds of reptiles including the Egyptian Cobra, red-spotted and coral snake. All these make Lake Qarun one of the richest nature reserves nearby Cairo.

Although Lake Qarun designated as protected area back in 1989, the lake has hardly been protected from various polluting elements. It suffers from a serious water pollution problem which is due to uncontrolled solid and liquid domestic and industrial waste disposal practices, in addition to agrochemical contamination and lack of sustainable wastewater management. This situation has caused negative water use impacts on public health, environment, and socio-economic development. Hence, there is a need for proper management of the quality of the lake water to address these impacts and pave the way for environmentally sustainable and socio-economically viable use of these vital resources. Accordingly, joint venture between Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications, and Fayoum Governorate was conducted to identify and assess management and options and scenarios for water quality improvement and pollution remediation for Lake Qarun, Also to help in developing an environmental management plan for their implementation.

Materials and methods

Study area

Lake Qarun is a closed saline basin located between longitudes of 30[degrees] 24\ & 30[degrees] 49\ E and latitude of 29[degrees] 24& 29[degrees] 33\ N in the lowest part of El-Fayoum depression, about 80 Km south west of Cairo (Figure 1). It has an irregular shape of about 40 km length and about 6 km mean width. The average area is about 240 [km.sup.2], the lake is shallow, with mean depth of 4.2m. Nearly, most of the lake's area has a depth ranging between 5 to 8 meters. The water level of the lake fluctuated between 43 to 45 meters below mean sea level [19] . The lake's main sources of water are from agriculture drainage and domestic wastewater. Most of the drainage water reaches the lake through two main drains, A1-Bans and Al-Wady Drains (Figure 2). Since, 1973 Al-Wady drain partially delivers most of its water from Wady Al-Rayan Lakes to maintain established water level of Lake Qarun.


Water, sediment, and fish samples were analyzed for a pre-defined set of biological, physical, and biochemical indicators which can be selected on the basis of the results reported in the previous surveys to allow the build up of a meaningful database that can be used for comparative assessment and trend delineation. Samples of water and sediment were collected from Qarun Lake; during 2003 and 2004; from different sites covering the whole lake area. At the same time, fish species were collected from the main sectors (east, middle and west) of the lake, different sampling points were presented in Figure 3 and their coordinates were showed in Table 1. Water samples for chemical analysis were collected by filling pre-cleaned bottles with water in a depth of 0.3 m. All samples were then stored on ice until they were returned to the laboratory for further processing. Sediment samples were collected at each station using a stainless steel 0.04[m.sup.2] young grab deployed from an anchored boat. The boat was repositioned between each sample to ensure that the same bottom was not sampled twice. Sediments were preserved in plastic bags.

The most common types of fishes in Lake Qarun were caught (Tilapia sp., Solea sp. and Mugil sp.). Fish tissue samples for metal analyses were obtained from trawls. All fish samples were wrapped in foil and stored on ice in plastic bags until they could be frozen until ready for acid digestion. Fish weight and length were taken and samples were dissected freshly to obtain the muscles and organs.




Chemical parameters

Water samples were subjected to a number of chemical parameters in order to study the quality of water. The parameters included measures of pH; dissolved oxygen; nutrients (ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN), and total phosphorus); total organic carbon (TOC), total suspended solids (TSS) and chemical oxygen demand (COD). All laboratory analyses were performed according to Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater (Standard methods for the examination of water & wastewater, 2005).

Moreover, metal analyses were performed in water, sediment and fish samples using Perkin Elmer Atomic absorption AAnalyst 300. Samples were digested using Milestone Microwave Labstation Ethos Microwave digester with Medium Pressure Rotor (MPR) or High Pressure Rotor (Microwave-Enhanced Chemistry). Digestion conditions with rotor selection were adjusted according to the Microwave user manual.

Biological parameters

Chlorophyll was determined in water using the modified method of Jeffrey and Humphrey [13] . Water samples were filtered through glass-fiber filter (Whatman GF/A). Glass fiber filters containing green pigments were placed in beaker and pure acetone was added for Chlorophyll extraction. Samples were then crushed by glass rod; the extract was filtered through cellulose nitrate filter paper. Same extract procedure was repeated until the glass fiber was cleared from chlorophyll.

The trichromatic method is recommended for water samples containing chlorophyll a, b, and c as the major pigments and where chlorophyll degradation products are absent. The presence of each type of chlorophyll in water is an indication for the presence of different algal and higher plant life, in which chl a is present in all photosynthetic algae and higher plants, chl b in higher plants and symbiotic prochlorophytes on the other hand chl c is present in chromophyte algae and brown seaweeds. Spectrophotometer was used of 2 nm bandwidth and stoppered cuvettes with path length up to 5 cm for chlorophyll determination. Samples extracts were transferred to cuvette, the absorbance was measured at 750, 664, 647, and 630 nm against a 90 % acetone blank. The concentration of chlorophyll a, b and c, were calculated according to the equations of Jeffrey and Humphrey method [13].

Chl a = (11.85 x ([E.sub.664] - [E.sub.750]) - 1.54 x ([E.sub.647] - [E.sub.750]) - 0.08 ([E 630 - E750)) x [V.sub.e] / L x [V.sub.f]

Chl b = (-5.43 x ([E.sub.664] - [E.sub.750]) + 21.03 x ([E.sub.647] - [E.sub.750]) - 2.66 ([E630 - E750)) x [V.sub.e] / L x [V.sub.f]

Chl c = (-1.67 x ([E.sub.664] - [E.sub.750]) - 7.6 x ([E.sub.647] - [E.sub.750]) + 24.52 (E630 - E750)) x [V.sub.e] / L x [V.sub.f]


L = Cuvette light-path in centimeter.

Ve = Extraction volume in milliliter.

Vf = Filtered volume in liter.

Concentrations are in unit mg/[m.sup.3].

Results and discussion

Analysis of lake main sources water

The lake's main sources of water are from agriculture drainage and domestic wastewater. Most of the drainage water reaches the lake through two main drains, Al-Bans and Al-Wady Drain and two pump stations (Main pump station and Khor Alhitan pump station). Water pollution of the lake was assessed through the characterization of the water disposal points as well as the effect of that water on the Lake W ater quality.

Figure 3 showed around 28 sampling points representing the four main disposal sources in which chemical analysis was performed for monitoring the pollution source. The minimum (min), maximum (max), mean (X) and standard deviation (s) of the results were presented in Table 2 and their mean was plotted in Figure 4.


In Figure 4 (a, b), it is clearly shown that most of pollutants come from the disposal of Al-Bans drain which characterized by its high pollution load. The concentrations of TKN, TP, TOC and COD were extremely high compared to the environmental quality standards for surface water since they were recorded as (32.4, 4.7, 112.3 and 1837.5 mg/L, respectively). However, Al-Wady drain showed relatively low pollution load.

On the other hand heavy metal content was determined in order to determine the pollution load produced from these drains. As presented in Figure 4c, great variations were recorded through samples according to its distance from the pollution source, Mercury and lead were not detected all over the samples. Al-Bans drain showed the highest concentration of zinc (1.4 mg/L) in comparison to other sites. The highest concentration of cobalt was recorded in water produced from Khor-Alhitan pump station. The presence of trace metals in Lake Qarun is Mercury and lead were not detected all over the samples. Al-Bans drain showed the highest concentration of zinc (1.4 mg/L) in comparison to other sites. The highest concentration of cobalt was recorded in water produced from Khor-Alhitan pump station. The presence of trace metals in Lake Qarun is mainly due to either agricultural influx, wastes of fish farms or sewage via surrounding cultivated lands. Trace elements in water may undergo rapid changes affecting the rate of uptake or release by sediments, thus influencing living organisms throughout the water-sediment interaction chain [12]. Although, some of these metals are classified biochemically as essential elements in the bodies of living organisms and aquatic plants when present in trace amounts e.g. (Zn, Cr, Co and Ni) but, when they present in high concentration they become toxic [15] . From results obtained in Table 2 and figure 4, it is clear that the distribution of pollutants in Lake Qarun showed increased values in the eastern sites when compared to western ones. The relatively higher values obtained for the east of the lake water may be due to the impact of pollution sources in this area which coming from Al-Batts drain and many anthropogenic activities in this part of lake, these results were in agreement with those obtained by Ali [3] for the same sites who found that the lake eastern part had higher contamination than the west one. Therefore, further analytical parameters chemical and biological were performed to distinguish the pollution level in this area.

Lake Water Characterizations

As indicated before, the major sources of potential water pollution in Lake Qarun include domestic wastewater, industrial effluent and agricultural runoff. Pollutants come mainly from point sources, including solid waste and wastewater discharge from domestic, industrial, and some agricultural activities.

Extensive investigation of water collected from different sampling points B1 to B9 which represent the eastern lake part which mainly affected by the water disposal from Al-Bans drain and the Main pump stations in that direction, are presented in Figures 5 and 6. The results obtained in Figure 5 showed high concentration of nitrogen parameters (TKN, ammonia, nitrate and nitrite) high amounts of nitrogen were recorded in sampling point representing the middle of the drain B4 (44.8, 5, 2.3 and 0.03 mg/L, respectively). The nitrogen concentration decreased as the distance from Al-Bans drain increased, which seemed that Al-Bans drain is the main source of nitrogen pollution.

On the other hand phosphorous was found to have significant high concentration which ranged between 2.5 and 7.0 with average concentrations of 4.7 mg/L (Figure 6). Increased inputs of P are of particular concern because it commonly is the limiting nutrient for productivity in freshwater ecosystems. Phosphorus loading to streams can increase the biomass of periphyton, macroalgae, and sestonic algae, as measured by chl a [28,26,6,21] .

Our measure of phytoplankton biomass in the water column is based on chlorophyll concentrations. High chl a concentrations provide an indication of possible lake eutrophication since phytoplankton respond rapidly to enriched nutrient concentrations and can form blooms that result in poor water quality (e.g., low DO, large DO variations) and the presence of harmful algal species. As presented in Figure 6 chl a was ranged between 118 and 689 with an average concentrations of 411 mg/[m.sup.3] .While chl b & c concentrations ranged between 1.77 to 39 with average of 15.33 and 5.65 to 38 with an average of 20.9, respectively.

However, identifying strong relationships between nutrient enrichment, chl a concentrations, and biotic integrity in streams has been difficult because of confounding environmental factors such as shading, turbidity, scouring of biomass during floods, substrate characteristics, and herbivory [20,5] . Therefore, establishing defensible nutrient criteria for streams, as mandated by the USEPA [25] requires an understanding of how environmental factors can influence the relationship between nutrients, chl a and dissolved [O.sub.2], phosphorus and nitrogen are considered to be the most important nutrients, when considering cultural eutrophication. Both occur naturally in a sufficient quantity to allow a lake to function as a healthy system; however, through man-made changes in land use, their transport to the lake is increased. Too much fertilizer causes too much plant and algae growth; consequently, the lake changes to a more eutrophic condition than its original state. This leads to growth of dense beds of aquatic plants and blooms of blue-green algae that create scum and foul odors, negatively impacting the physical appearance and recreational suitability of the lake.

Dissolved Oxygen was found to be fluctuated and ranged between 5.6 and 15.1 with an average of 10.9 mg/L, based on the daylight measuring (Figure 6). Adequate dissolved [O.sub.2] is vital for the survival of aquatic organisms and is therefore an important variable in the assessment and monitoring of water quality. Short periods of anoxia can be fatal to aquatic organisms, and prolonged exposure to low [O.sub.2] concentrations can increase susceptibility to other environmental stressors [9] . Although [O.sub.2] concentrations in streams can vary naturally over seasonal time scales, large fluctuations in [O.sub.2] concentrations often indicate excessive productivity resulting from nutrient enrichment [9] . As algal biomass increases, respiration during nighttime can deplete [O.sub.2] concentrations to values that kill susceptible organisms and result in generally impaired biotic integrity [22,20]. In eutrophic streams, dissolved [O.sub.2] can range from supersaturated during daylight to nearly anoxic at night.



Sediment Composition

The composition of lake sediment can affect the structure of benthic communities, the exchange rates of gases and nutrients between the water column and seafloor, and the bioavailability of nutrients and contaminants to resident fauna [8,7] .

Total organic carbon (TOC) represents a measure of the amount of organic material present in sediments. At very low TOC levels, little food is available for consumers resulting in a low biomass community; at very high TOC levels, enhanced sediment respiration rates lead to oxygen depletion and accumulation of potentially toxic reduced chemicals. Analyses of sediment samples collected from the eastern part of the lake as represented in Figure (7) revealed that the TOC content of the sediment ranged between 14.9 and 74 with an average of 44 mg/g (4.4%), TN content was ranged between 1.12 and 7.7 with an average of 3.92 mg/g (0.39 %), while the TP content ranged between 0.77 and 4.74 with average of 2.57 mg/g (0.26%). Hyland[10] found that TOC levels below 0.5 mg/g (0.05%) and above 30 mg/g (3.0%) were related to decrease benthic abundance and biomass.

Metal content in different fish samples

The biomonitoring of pollutants using accumulator species is based on the capacity which has some plant and animal taxa to accumulate relatively large amounts of certain pollutants, even from much diluted solutions without obvious noxious effects. The use of this type of monitoring is widespread in marine and freshwater environments for measuring of pollutant content in the organisms and it is the only way of evaluating the bioavailability of pollutants present in the environment [23] . Trace metals tend to accumulate in different body organs. These metals are dangerous for fish and in turn they lead to serious problems in both man and animals [17] .

Analyses of heavy metal content for different fish species obtained from the west, east and middle side of the lake were presented in Figure (8). Data revealed that the highest concentrations of metals were obtained from fishes collected from the eastern part of the lake. Co, Ni, Zn and Cu were recorded in fish tissues with high accumulation of Ni and Cu. These data were agreed with the previous results of chemical analysis of water, which indicated that the eastern part is the most polluted side of the lake (Figure 4). The relatively higher values obtained for east part of the lake sediments and water may be due to the impact of pollution sources in this area which coming from AlBatts drain and many anthropogenic activities in this part of the lake, these results were in agreement with those obtained by Ali [3,2] for the same sites.

Fish may absorb dissolved elements and trace metals from its feeding and surrounding water, these metals accumulate in various tissues in significant amounts and are eliciting a toxicological effects at target criteria [18] . Figure (9) shows the distribution of the heavy metals within different parts of three fish species colleted from Qarun Lake. Results obtained showed that in fish gills metals were accumulated in high concentrations in comparison to other parts, on the other hand flesh of the fish body contained the minimum metal content than other fish parts. The analyses of trace metal concentrations in different fish species indicated that Solea sp. seemed to be more contaminated than other fish species followed by Mugil sp. and Tilapia sp. These observations are mainly due to different fish habitat (Solea sp. is bottom feeder fish while other species are filter feeders) and surrounding ecosystem status. These results agree with data obtained by A1 Kholy [1] and Ibrahim [11] when they had studied the same lake.

Conclusion and the impact of water pollution on the environment and human health

Potential environmental and health impacts of surface water pollution in the basin are multi-faceted and can be classified under direct and indirect impacts depending on the exposure pathway. Direct impacts are the result of direct exposure to low quality water such as the consumption of polluted water that could result in a variety of adverse implications to human, animal, and aquatic well-being. Indirect impacts are the result of indirect exposure to polluted water such as the consumption of damaged plants, impacted animals, fish, or food products, and the development of eutrophication associated with algal blooms that in turn damage agricultural equipment, restrict water use in the lake, and produce foul odors and insects. The results obtained revealed that the lake water is suffering from elevated concentrations of phosphorous and nitrogen that are conducive to algal bloom under appropriate environmental conditions (i.e. sunlight, temperature, water stagnation and depth). Total organic carbon (TOC) represents a measure of the amount of organic material present in sediments. The composition of lake sediment can affect the structure of benthic communities, the exchange rates of gases and nutrients between the water column and seafloor, and the bioavailability of nutrients and contaminants to resident fauna. High levels of TOC in sediment samples led to decreased benthic abundance and biomass in addition to enhanced sediment respiration rates which lead to oxygen depletion and accumulation of potentially toxic reduced chemicals that will affect the animal and plant life in the lake. Furthermore, the presence of high trace metals levels in water and sediment led to the accumulation of metal in different fish parts specially gills which will very serious and dangerous for man and animal life.




The lake water quality must be protected and improved as soon as possible. The following measured may be suggested and taken into consideration. First, a prior treatment for industrial wastewater must be enforced contentiously, and domestic sewage must be treated before discharging. Second, the agriculture waste must be managed to reduce the pollutions in the lake.


Our sincerest thanks to the efforts of Mr. Hossam Kamel, director of the natural protectorate of Lake Qarun for all the facilities that he has offered during the study.


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(1) Hany Hussein, (1) Ranya Amer, (1) Ahmed Gaballah, (2) Yasser Refaat and (3) Abeer Abdel-Wahab

(1) Environmental Biotechnology Department, Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Institute.

(2) Bioprocess Development Department, Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Institute.

(3) Medical Biotechnology Department, Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Institute.

Corresponding Author:

Hany Mohamed Hussein, Environmental Biotechnology Department, GEBRI, Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technology Application, P.O. Box. 21934 Alexandria, Egypt. Tel.: 009645128139, (203) 4593420, Fax: (203)4593407
Table 1: Coordinates of sampling points in Qarun Lake.

Point Coordinates Point Coordinates

B1 29 30 53 30 48 11 P6 29 29 58 30 43 53
B2 29 30 25 30 48 3 P7 29 29 58 29 43 53
B3 29 29 59 30 47 58 W1 29 27 7 30 39 58
B4 29 29 39 30 47 32 W2 29 27 40 30 39 7
B5 29 29 57 30 46 29 W3 29 27 35 30 37 44
B6 29 30 2 30 46 13 W4 29 28 9 30 36 54
B7 29 30 31 30 45 37 W5 29 28 39 30 35 32
B8 29 30 46 30 44 43 W6 29 28 14 30 34 24
B9 29 30 11 30 36 34 D1 29 26 35 30 35 19
P1 29 28 54 30 45 14 D2 29 26 56 30 33 40
P2 29 29 15 30 44 36 D3 29 26 55 30 32 6
P3 29 29 36 30 44 36 D4 29 26 9 30 31 14
P4 29 30 11 30 46 34 D5 29 25 46 30 30 14
P5 29 29 58 30 43 53 D6 29 25 5 30 29 30

Table 2: Chemical characteristics of the Qarun Lake water from main
sampling points.

Parameters Al-Batss drain

 min Max X (1) S
pH 7 8.9 8.4 0.581
DO mg/L 5.6 15.1 10.9 3.4
COD mg/L 1265.0 2365.0 1837.5 1265
TOC mg/L 96 150 112.3 16.85
TKN mg/L 21 44.8 32.4 6.630
N[O.sub.2] mg/L 0.02 0.07 0.1 0.0165
N[O.sub.3] mg/L 2.5 7.2 4.7 1.554
N[H.sub.4] mg/L 1.5 2.8 2.1 0.406
TP mg/L 2.5 7 4.7 1.7
Cu [micro]gram/L 26 93 30.8 38.10
Zu [micro]gram/L 1200 1620 1407.6 166.82
Ni [micro]gram/L 66 100 77.2 14.44
Cr [micro]gram/L 15 275 84.0 119.86
Co [micro]gram/L <0.1 40 8.0 17.88
Cd [micro]gram/L <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1

Parameters Main pump station Al-Wady drain Khor Alhitan
 pump station
 min Max X (2) S min Max

pH 8.4 9.2 8.8 0.308 8.0 8.8
DO 8.3 20.8 12.6 5.114 7.3 12.8
COD 1256 1687 1481.3 162.424 1165.0 1843.0
TOC 21.0 145.0 78.3 55.7 30.0 130.0
TKN 3.4 10.1 5.6 2.721 2.2 12.0
N[O.sub.2] <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 0.1
N[O.sub.3] 2.4 6.8 3.7 1.604 1.2 10.3
N[H.sub.4] 1.1 5.6 3.8 1.53 <0.002 3.4
TP 0.6 3.6 2.5 1.087 <0.002 3.2
Cu <1 <1 <1 <1 <1 40
Zu <1 50 29.2 19.21 <1 162
Ni <1 100 65.6 39.456 <1 200
Cr <1 30 10.0 14.142 <1 <1
Co <0.1 27 19.0 11.023 <0.1 1100
Cd <0.1 19 13.0 7.583 <0.1 82

Parameters X (3) S min Max X (4) S

pH 8.3 0.250 8.5 8.7 8.6 0.084
DO 8.8 1.981 7.3 9.4 8.4 0.88
COD 1388.1 233.7 1110 1400 1280.0 98.78
TOC 75.1 40.9 36 170 98.3 64.46
TKN 8.7 3.130 3.4 10.1 5.8 2.283
N[O.sub.2] 0.0427 0.057 <0.001 0.02 0.0057 0.008
N[O.sub.3] 5.5 2.73 1.9 4.2 3.3 0.821
N[H.sub.4] 0.8 1.25 <0.002 6.7 2.2 2.552
TP 0.9 1.27 1.1 2 3.4 2.372
Cu 13.2 18.07 <1 <1 <1 <1
Zu 104.4 71.67 <1 60 16.0 26.077
Ni 150.6 47.95 <1 110 36.2 51.45
Cr <1 <1 <1 <1 <1 <1
Co 320.00 464.5 41 1330 366.2 538.98
Cd 47.8 31.9 41 50 44.0 3.536

(1) Average of sampling points from B1

(2) Average of sampling points from P1 to P7

(3) Average of sampling points from W 1 to W 6

(4) Average of sampling points from D1 to D6
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Title Annotation:Original Article
Author:Hussein, Hany; Amer, Ranya; Gaballah, Ahmed; Refaat, Yasser; Abdel-Wahab, Abeer
Publication:Advances in Environmental Biology
Article Type:Report
Date:May 1, 2008
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