State of the Beach/State Reports/PA/Water Quality
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Water Quality Monitoring Program
The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) signed into law on October 10, 2000, amends the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), incorporating provisions intended to reduce the risk of illness to users of the Nation's recreational waters. The BEACH Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award program development and implementation grants to eligible States, Territories, Tribes, and local governments to support microbiological testing and monitoring of coastal recreation waters, including the Great Lakes, that are adjacent to beaches or similar points of access used by the public. BEACH Act grants also provide support for development and implementation of programs to notify the public of the potential exposure to disease-causing microorganisms in coastal recreation waters. EPA encourages coastal States and Territories to apply for BEACH Act Grants for Program Implementation (referred to as Implementation Grants) to implement effective and comprehensive coastal recreation water monitoring and public notification programs. CWA section 406(i) authorizes appropriations of up to $30 million per year to develop and implement beach programs. Unfortunately, only about one-third that amount has been authorized each year since the program's inception. For fiscal year 2014, the total fund available for BEACH Act grants was $9.55 million. Funding beyond 2012 has been in jeopardy, since EPA's budget requests for this program in FY2013 and FY2014 were ZERO (money for testing in 2013 and 2014 was ultimately allocated as part of Continuing Resolutions to resolve the Federal Budget impasse) and there is also no money for beach testing in the FY2015 budget. It is very discouraging to have to fight for this basic funding to protect the public's health at the beach every year. Thankfully, there is a growing movement to provide stable funding. If available, funds are allocated to the states and territories based on a formula which uses three factors that are readily available and verifiable: (1) Length of beach season, (2) miles of beach and (3) number of people that use the beaches. Pennsylvania was eligible for a $214,000 grant in fiscal year 2014.
Portions of the following discussion are taken from NRDC's report A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, June 2014. NRDC's report evaluates beach monitoring data relative to EPA's recommended Beach Action Value (BAV). The BAV is a more protective threshold than the national allowable bacteria levels used in previous years to trigger beach advisories. The EPA considers the BAV to be a "conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions."
NRDC ranked Pennsylvania 22nd in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states). 14% of samples exceeded EPA's new BAV standards for designated beach areas in 2013.
Pennsylvania has 40 miles of Lake Erie coastline, all within Erie County. Under Pennsylvania law, public swimming is allowed only at beaches operated by an individual or organization that has a valid permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. There are eight miles of permitted public bathing beaches, including nine beaches at Presque Isle State Park; one, Freeport Beach, in North East Township; and one at Camp Fitch in Springfield Township. The coastal beach monitoring program is administered by the Erie County Department of Health (ECDH). Beachgoers can learn about beach advisories on the ECDH website.
Water Quality Challenges and Improvements
Predictive Models at Presque Isle
Presque Isle State Park is a very popular swimming area, with an estimated 4 million visitors annually, the majority of whom visit the park between Memorial Day and Labor Day. In 2004, the ECDH began developing a predictive beachwater quality model for Presque Isle State Park based on weather, known sewage discharges, storm events, and water currents. In 2012, the ECDH continued to develop the predictive model in cooperation with the Regional Science Consortium (RSC) at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, Mercyhurst University, Penn State Behrend, and Presque Isle State Park. The program uses historical data from sample monitoring and water quality data from two water buoys off Presque Isle beaches, and considers weather conditions such as wind direction and rainfall. To make decisions regarding precautionary advisories, the RSC conducts quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) analyses, a method that targets genetic sequences found in enterococcus bacteria, allowing public health officials to issue same-day warnings for poor beachwater quality.
Beachwater quality monitoring is conducted from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Practices are regulated by the state, with permit holders allowed to monitor more frequently than the state requires if they desire. Samples are collected in water that is approximately 30 inches deep, midway between the surface and the bottom. By regulation, at least three samples of water are taken from each beach at least once a week. Two samples are taken approximately 50 feet from each end of the beach, and the third sample is taken in the center. Presque Isle State Park is monitored twice a week due to high swimming use of the beaches there.
When a sample is found to exceed bacterial standards, beaches are resampled for three consecutive days so officials will be able to lift advisories and/or restrictions as soon as possible. States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found will tend to have higher percent exceedances and lower total advisory days than they would if their sampling frequency did not increase after an exceedance was found.
Standards and Procedures
Swimming advisories and restrictions, rather than beach closings, are issued at Pennsylvania's Lake Erie beaches. If a single-sample E. coli count is between 235 and 1,000 cfu/100 ml, a swimming advisory is issued. Swimming is permitted, but the public is informed that the E. coli level exceeds standards, and potential swimmers are advised about what precautions to take should they enter the water. If a single-sample count is 1,000 cfu/100 ml or greater, a swimming restriction is posted and swimming is prohibited. Three samples are taken per sampling event, and the results are averaged before comparing them with the standards. Pennsylvania also uses a 5-sample, 30-day geometric mean standard for E. coli of 126 cfu/100 ml to post restrictions. There is no protocol for delaying or forgoing an advisory or restriction when bacterial standards are exceeded.
If rainfall exceeds 0.5 inch in a 24-hour period, Presque Isle State Park officials conduct a visual analysis of the beaches, monitor conditions such as wind and current direction, and determine whether a preemptive rain advisory should be issued. Beaches are also preemptively posted with restrictions when there is a known sewage spill and when high waves and strong winds out of the west are present.
The Great Lakes Commission (GLC), in partnership with LimnoTech and the Great Lakes states, has developed a free smartphone application that provides convenient, public access to swim advisories and other environmental conditions information for more than 1,800 beaches in the Great Lakes region. Funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the myBeachCast application (app) retrieves locational and advisory data for Great Lakes and inland lake beaches in the eight Great Lakes states. The app also features real-time and forecasted weather and lake conditions (e.g., water temperature, wave heights, wind speed/direction) and nearshore marine forecasts, drawn from the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). myBeachCast allows users to discover local beaches based on the user’s location, view beaches and their status on a map, save favorite beaches, and get driving directions. To download myBeachCast, go to http://beachcast.glin.net.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), through its Great Lakes Beach Health Initiative, has been conducting research to advance the science of beach health in the Great Lakes for over a decade. The overall mission of this work is to provide science-based information and methods that will allow beach managers to more accurately make beach closure and advisory decisions, understand the sources and physical processes affecting beach contaminants, and understand how science-based information can be used to mitigate and restore beaches and protect the public. The work consists of four science elements—real-time assessments; pathogens and microbial source tracking; coastal processes; and data analysis, interpretation, and communication.
Water Quality Contact
Erie Department of Health
606 West Second Street
Erie, PA 16507
Phone: (814) 451-6700
Fax: (814) 451-6766
In 2013, Pennsylvania reported 13 coastal beaches, 10 of which were monitored. Of all reported beach monitoring samples, 14% exceeded the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 190 E. coli bacteria colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml freshwater in a single sample. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and reported samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.
The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the BAV in 2013 were Freeport Beach (34%), Beach 11 (22%), Beach 8 (Pettinato Beach) (16%), Beach 1 East (15%), and Mill Road Beaches (14%), all in Erie County.
For a bar chart showing a 5-year water quality trend, see NRDC's report.
In June 2013, U.S. EPA released its latest data about beach closings and advisories for the 2012 swimming season. Note that for some states the data is incomplete, making state-to-state or year-to-year comparisons difficult. Here's EPA's BEACH Report for Alabama's 2012 Swimming Season.
Storm Drains and Sewage Outfalls
Lake Erie surpasses all the other Great Lakes in the amount of effluent received
from sewage treatment plants (Dolan, 1993).
Information regarding sewage outfall locations along Pennsylvania's Lake Erie shoreline could not be found.
Pennsylvania has a policy and a listing regarding Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs).
A series of articles in the Great Lakes Echo discuss stormwater and municipal wastewater issues throughout the Great Lakes that are impacting recreational water quality.
There are many Onlot (aka "Septic") Systems systems in Pennsylvania that can pollute surface waters or groundwater if they are not designed, installed and maintained properly. Here is a Homeowner's Guide from DEP.
Pennsylvania's Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Program was approved in 2001. Funding is used within the CNPP management area to incorporate management measures further into existing programs, fund local projects that implement any management practices that accomplish the management measures, and enhance the capabilities of local organizations to prevent the CNPP-specific categories of nonpoint source pollution. Conservation districts and the Philadelphia Water Department have been partners in implementing the CNPP program. Here's the 2008 report and a October 1, 2010 to September 30, 2011 report from Erie County Conservation District.
The Department of Environmental Protection operates a Stormwater Management Program and a nonpoint source management program to restore and protect Pennsylvania's watersheds by reducing the impacts of nonpoint sources of pollution on water resources. Here's the FY 2011 Annual Report.
The latest Lake Erie Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP) was developed in 2008 by numerous binational organizations, including CRM partners. The goal of the LaMPs is to assess, restore, protect, and monitor the ecosystem health of a Great Lake. The 2008 Lake Erie plan includes information on the Presque Isle Bay AOC Remedial Action Plan, research and monitoring on oxygen shortages and algal blooms, and along with ongoing issues with a recent focus on nutrient management.
The Presque Isle Bay Watershed Restoration Plan has been developed by Pennsylvania Sea Grant. It will serve as the framework for restoring and protecting water resources within the watershed and function as a model that can be adapted to other areas. The project involves extensive use of GIS in the assessment of restoration priorities. This plan was funded by CRM and the Great Lakes Protection Fund.
The State Water Plan was adopted in 2009. This is a key document that provides Pennsylvanians with a vision, goals and recommendations for meeting the challenges of sustainable water use over a 15 year planning horizon.
USGS' Water Resources of Pennsylvania provides access to water flow and water quality information.
Water Quality Contact (Runoff and Outfalls)
Perception of Causes
NOAA's 2006 evaluation of Pennsylvania Coastal Program noted:
"Nearly a decade after the revised 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was signed by the International Joint Commission (Canada and the United States) to "restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem," the two nations agreed that the worst areas would be given priority attention. Subsequently, 43 such areas were designated as Areas of Concern because they contained contaminated sediment, inadequately treated wastewater, nonpoint source pollution, inland contaminated sites or degraded habitat to a greater degree than the rest of the Great Lakes. Presque Isle Bay was designated as Area of Concern #43.
Since that time, Erie County and other partners and concerned citizens have worked to address the impairments (to fish and sediments) identified in the designation of Presque Isle Bay as an Area of Concern. Over $100 million has been spent to address sewage and outfall issues, and there are no longer any combined sewage outfalls left on the Bay. The waterfront has changed from industrial use to commercial and recreational uses. The International Joint Commission has now declared Presque Isle Bay as one of only two Areas of Concern to be “in recovery.” Active remediation is no longer needed, but monitoring will continue."
In their Draft Assessment and Strategy (June 2010) CRM reported:
- "DCNR and the Erie County Department of Health have teamed to conduct additional research and provide additional insight on beach sampling and closure procedures as well as sources of contaminants. The CRM program has helped to support this research. Non-point source pollution associated with stormwater runoff is the source of the bacteria causing beach advisories and restrictions at Presque Isle. Thus, trends in beach mile closure days may be a result of weather conditions as opposed to an indicator of overall water quality trends."
- "According to the Department's section 303(d) list, about 16% of streams in the LECZ are impaired. 44% of these 22 miles of nonattaining streams are impaired by urban runoff/storm sewers and small residential runoff impacts. These reaches include almost all assessed streams within Erie City limits, including Mill and Cascade Creek West Branch, along with two tributaries and Millcreek Township and North East Township and Borough. Specific impairments caused by runoff include siltation and water flow variability. About the same amount of streams are impaired by agricultural land uses. These three impaired agriculturally-impaired tributaries include Trout Run and are located in Fairview and Girard Townships in western Erie County. Specific impairments included siltation and nutrients. Other lesser sources of impairment in the LECZ include municipal point sources, such as sewage treatment plants, land development, golf courses, recreation/tourism, and bank modifications."
- "Marine debris is any man-made object discarded, disposed of, or abandoned that enters coastal waters. It may enter directly from a ship, or indirectly when blown or washed out to sea through rivers, streams and storm drains. Marine debris can be generally broken down into two categories, land-based and ocean-based. EPA states that land-based debris accounts for 80% of the nation’s marine debris. The percentage in Pennsylvania’s coastal waters is probably even higher. Land based sources include storm water runoff, landfills, combined sewer overflows (CSOs), street litter (wind and water driven), damaged structures, illegal dumps, and recreational users who litter. Street litter, entering coastal waters through various pathways, is Pennsylvania’s most significant source of marine debris. In addition to being aesthetically unpleasing, they can cause beach closings, interfere with navigation by fouling propellers and cooling water intake systems, and impact wildlife through entanglement and ingestion. [...] Municipal solid waste is Pennsylvania’s most significant source of marine debris. The primary authority for the management of municipal solid waste and recyclable materials in Pennsylvania lies within the requirements of the Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction Act of 1988 (Act 101). Pennsylvania renewed its commitment to strengthen recycling efforts when it passed Act 175 of 2002. This act amended the Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction Act by seeking to make recycling efforts self-sufficient."
BACTERIAL QUALITY OF WATERS NEAR PRESQUE ISLE, A COMPILATION OF RELEVANT PUBLICATIONS 1987-2007 is a compilation of water quality studies of waters near Presque Isle that was prepared in advance of the "Our Lake, Our Future Research Symposium" at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, May 17-18, 2007. Questions or comments can be directed to Jeff Quirk (Epidemiologist) or Scott White (Environmental Supervisor) at (814) 451-6700.
An article in the Great Lakes Echo in December 2012 discussed many of the water quality problems in the Great Lakes, including bacterial pollution, algal blooms and invasive species.
U.S. EPA and federal, state and local beach program partners developed standardized beach sanitary survey forms in 2007. These forms assist beach managers with a consistent approach to identify pollution sources, share information, and plan source remediation. The forms were successfully piloted by 61 Great Lakes beaches during the 2007 beach season, through EPA funding. The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration (GLRC) Clean Beaches Initiative is focused on broadening the use of these standard sanitary survey forms throughout the Great Lakes region. Beach managers, cities, tribes, and citizen volunteers are encouraged to use the standard sanitary survey forms and take this first critical step towards ensuring clean and safe beaches.
Great Lakes Restoration
In June 2009 President Obama appointed Cameron Davis, president of the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes, the first-ever Great Lakes “czar.” Mr. Davis will coordinate federal programs on the lakes, including efforts to clean up contaminated sediments, reduce existing pollution sources and work to stop the spread of invasive species. The position is part of a $5 billion, 10-year restoration plan Obama released during his 2008 presidential campaign. Davis' official title is "senior adviser on the Great Lakes" to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Congress approved legislation in late October 2009 that included $475 million to restore the Great Lakes by combating invasive species, cleaning up highly polluted sites and expanding wetlands. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) includes:
- $146 million for cleaning up pollution in sediment in feeder rivers and harbors before it flows into the Lakes.
- $105 million to protect and restore habitat and wildlife.
- $97 million to stop "nonpoint" pollution, such as farm fertilizer and oil runoff, that closes beaches and leads to fish kills.
- $65 million to evaluate how the Lakes and wildlife are responding to cleanup efforts.
- $60 million for combating zebra mussels and other invasive species.
This initiative will use outcome-oriented performance goals and measures to target the most significant problems and track progress in addressing them. EPA and its Federal partners will coordinate State, tribal, local, and industry actions to protect, maintain, and restore the chemical, biological, and physical integrity of the Great Lakes. The Initiative builds upon 5 years of work of the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force (IATF) and stakeholders, guided by the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy. The IATF includes 11 cabinet and agency organizations, including: EPA, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the Departments of State, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Homeland Security, Army, and Health and Human Services.
The IATF developed a Plan for the $475 million budget, including over $250 million in grants and project agreements aimed at achieving the long term goals: safely eating the fish and swimming at our beaches, assuring safe drinking water, and providing a healthy ecosystem for fish and wildlife. A companion Agency Actions document describes proposed accomplishments for each Agency pursuant to the Initiative.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative website provides additional information on the progress of this initiative, including the award of grants for specific projects.
The FY2010-FY2014 Great Lakes Restoration Action Plan was released on February 21, 2010. This Plan provides information about how the GLRI will address specific high profile, basinwide issues (for example, aquatic invasive species) as well as critical but more localized issues (for example, contaminated sediments). EPA and the IATF will use this plan to guide the overall direction and focus of GLRI and lays out the goals, objectives, measures, and actions that will help track our federal efforts from fiscal year 2010 through 2014.
The report State of the Great Lakes 2010 contains discussions on each of the Great Lakes and the current and planned restoration projects.
The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 120 environmental, conservation, and outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums. Their member organizations represent millions of people who share a common goal of restoring and protecting North America’s greatest freshwater resource, the Great Lakes. The coalition reflects a growing public awareness of the urgent need to restore the health of the Great Lakes, which are essential to the economic and cultural identity of our region. The coalition’s mission is to secure a sustainable Great Lakes restoration plan and the funding needed to implement it. The coalition seeks to:
- stop sewage contamination that closes beaches and harms recreational opportunities;
- clean up toxic sediments that threaten the health of people and wildlife;
- prevent polluted runoff from cities and farms that harm water quality;
- restore and protect high quality wetlands and wildlife habitat that filter pollutants, provide a home for fish and wildlife, and support the region’s outdoor recreation economy;
- prevent the introduction of invasive species, such as Asian carp, that threaten the economy and quality of life for millions of people.
Some progress is being made in restoration of habitat and improvement in water quality. Here are some Pennsylvania success stories.
Cladophora Algae and Harmful Algal Blooms
Excessive growth of the filamentous green alga, Cladophora sp., was one of the most obvious symptoms of eutrophication in the Great Lakes between the 1950s and 1970s. During the latter part of this period, a large amount of research was conducted to determine the causes of excessive Cladophora growth. While various factors, including nitrogen, phosphorus, temperature and irradiance were found to influence Cladophora growth, phosphorus appeared to be the key factor responsible for excessive growth, and phosphorus abatement was seen as the most effective method of solving the problem. This approach appeared to be validated by the decline in the abundance of Cladophora and other algae in the 1980s following the removal of phosphorus from detergents, improved phosphorus removal by sewage treatment plants, and changes in agricultural practices designed to reduce phosphorus runoff from land – actions that resulted from a 1983 amendment to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
In the past five to ten years, excessive Cladophora growth has re-emerged as a management problem in parts of the Great Lakes. This has resulted in public complaint, generally related to the decline in aesthetic conditions near the lakeshore. Other negative impacts include human health hazards (e.g. Cladophora mats may promote the growth or retention of pathogens), the clogging of water intakes (including those of power plants), the loss of recreation opportunities, and declining lakefront property values. In addition to direct impacts on humans, excessive Cladophora growth may have significant impacts on ecosystem functions and properties such as nutrient cycling, energy flow and food web structure. More info.
A June 2006 report Something’s Amuck, Algae Blooms Return to Michigan Shores by the the Michigan Environmental Council has more on this problem and what can be done to solve it.
A presentation by Michael Evanoff of Michigan DNR Bay City State Recreation Area, Muck Management Uncensored examines the history of "muck management" at this location.
An article Green Disposal of a Green Menace was published in the Great Lakes Echo on July 30, 2013. This article discusses options for disposal of Cladophora algae, including composting and possibly using it in the production of biofuels.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and Michigan Sea Grant have produced a brochure The Beach Manager's Manual - Harmful Algal Blooms.
The NOAA Center of Excellence for Great Lakes and Human Health (CEGLHH) is hosting a series of Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Stakeholder Workshops in Great Lakes states. The purpose of these workshops is to bring together public health, water, beach/natural resource managers, and tribes to discuss and assess the HAB issue in the state. For additional information on these Workshops, please see: http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/Centers/HumanHealth/
In February 2008, the Alliance for the Great Lakes issued a press release criticizing the state's draft 2008 305(b) report of impaired waters for failing to document a dramatic increase in algae blooms in Saginaw Bay and along Western Lake Erie.
The Smart Boating Clean Waters campaign was started in 2003 to provide recreational water-users information, guidance, and assistance in protecting water quality in the Delaware Estuary and Lake Erie coastal areas.
The Bayfront Center for Maritime Studies mission is to "develop and implement unique experiential, maritime themed educational, vocational and recreational opportunities for the community in a universally accessible waterfront facility."
The Lake Erie – Allegheny Earth Force engages young people as active citizens who improve the environment and their communities now and in the future.
The Tom Ridge Environmental Center (TREC) is an educational center dedicated to teaching visitors about the unique 3,200 acres of Presque Isle and the many different forms of life that inhabit the peninsula. TREC also serves as a center for research, contributing to conservation efforts and promoting environmental awareness, helping to preserve the unparalleled beauty of Presque Isle, the site of Pennsylvania’s only seashore.
The City of Erie Sewer Department maintains litter booms on Cascade Creek and most recently Mill Creek, which drains the majority of the urban area of Erie. The Mill Creek litter boom was installed in the fall of 2009 with support funding from state Growing Greener and Growing Greener II grants. Part of the Growing Greener grants calls for an educational component whereby the Junior Pennsylvania Lake Erie Watershed Association and Earthforce students will examine and document the amount and types of litter captured by the booms.
Pennsylvania DEP has compiled an extensive list of NONPOINT SOURCE POLLUTION PUBLICATIONS AND PROJECTS.
The International Joint Commission (U.S. and Canada) has a Beaches and Recreational Water Quality Workgroup that has developed a Beaches Fact Sheet and several other documents evaluating sources of recreational water quality contamination and reviewing best management practices.
Plastics and other litter, abandoned vessels, and derelict fishing gear have been a long-standing problem for the Great Lakes. In order to begin to address this problem, the Great Lakes community worked together to produce the Great Lakes Land-based Marine Debris Action Plan. The action plan provides scientists, governments, stakeholders, and decision makers a road map for strategic progress to see that the Great Lakes, its coasts, people, and wildlife are free from the impacts of marine debris. It centers around a mission to combat debris through an increased understanding of the problem, preventative actions, reductions in impacts, education and outreach, and collaborative efforts from diverse groups.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and Michigan Sea Grant have produced a brochure The Beach Manager's Manual - Harmful Algal Blooms.
General Reference Documents
EPA has compiled several NPS (Nonpoint Source) Outreach Products that are a selection of television, radio, and print products on nonpoint source pollution that have been developed by various agencies and organizations around the country. They are good examples of outreach in the mass media. Also see What You Can Do.
NOAA, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, International City/County Management Association and Rhode Island Sea Grant, will be releasing, in August 2009, a first-of-its kind interagency guide that adapts smart growth principles to the unique needs of coastal and waterfront communities. Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities builds on existing smart growth principles to offer 10 coastal and waterfront-specific guidelines that help manage development while balancing environmental, economic, and quality of life issues.
USGS' Great Lakes Beach Science website has a nationwide database that contains greater than 1200 citations for publications directly and indirectly pertaining to recreational water quality intended for access by the general public and scientific community. It is a fully searchable, downloadable bibliography that has been categorized into major study topics.
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