Michigan Expands Testing to Determine TCE Exposure

TCEState officials in Michigan have reported that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will test more than 100 homes in Brighton for trichloroethylene (TCE). This toxic chemical was found to be present in the air of five homes near Brighton High School. Additionally, the state has opened another investigation of toxic air in a second location near Whitmore Lake Road.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a chemical that is commonly used as an industrial solvent to remove grease from metal parts and as an ingredient in paint removers, spot removers, and adhesives. The reason TCE is in Brighton’s homes and groundwater is that the manufacturer Detroit Gaskets utilized and disposed of it carelessly it for over 30 years, from the late 1940s to the early 1980s. Detroit Gaskets used TCE as a degreaser. Haigh Manufacturing, located in the second area of contamination, also dumped it in the 1960s and 1970s.

Dealing with TCE’s persistent toxicity has been an ongoing problem for residents in this area for decades since this chemical was discovered in the groundwater in 1990. The City of Brighton had to expand its water supply to some 89 houses because the well water was no longer drinkable. Since that time some clean up has occurred, and the footprint of the first groundwater plume is about half of its original size. Unfortunately, air quality in these homes is also affected. TCE can leach into residences on top of the contaminated areas through vapor intrusion. In cases where the air is found to be toxic, air purifying units must be installed in order to mitigate TCE vapors.

Previously we’ve discussed the consequences of solvent exposure. Because TCE was used in many settings for decades without precautions, there is significant evidence that long-term exposure to trichloroethylene can lead to kidney, liver, heart, and nerve damage, cognitive impairment, birth defects, and cancer. Like other solvents, it must be handled with care and disposed of correctly. People suffer when it is not.

As this story illustrates, the chemicals we use in our daily lives have an impact on us both in the present and in the future. This is why choosing green, environmentally safe options is so important for all of us in all aspects of our lives, including in our businesses. The choices Detroit Gaskets and Haigh Manufacturing made for decades have created a toxic environment that has made people sick and cost the City of Brighton and the state a great deal of time and money to mitigate.

AEC Systems, LLC is committed to designing and manufacturing parts washing equipment that does not rely on toxic solvents to clean industrial parts. We believe that it’s worth investing money to prevent damage to people’s health and to the environment. We are proud of the safe and effective products we design and of our commitment to safer chemistry in parts cleaning. If your company is exploring alternatives to parts cleaning with solvents, call us today. We would be happy to discuss with you how we can meet your needs.


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Water, the Universal Solvent

universal solventPreviously we’ve talked about solvents and how exposure to some solvents carries risks to health and well being. What is a solvent, though? In this blog we will answer that question and explain why water is the universal solvent.

What Is a Solvent?

A solvent is a liquid that dissolves a solute or a liquid into which other materials dissolve to form a solution. There are many types of solvents, including turpentine, benzene, trichloroethylene, ethanol, and – of course – water. A common rule of chemistry is “Like dissolves like.” There are polar and nonpolar substances and solvents. Water is the polar solvent we are all familiar with. Salt is also polar, and we know how salt dissolves into water. It dissolves so well that the majority of the earth’s mass is covered by salt water. Salt remains in solution in water indefinitely unless a process like desalinization is employed.

In contrast oil is non polar. It does not dissolve in water. When oil is added to water, it will float on top of the water. Any mixture of oil and water will quickly separate. To dissolve oil easily you must use a non polar solvent like benzene. Benzene has been in use since Michael Faraday isolated it in 1825. After it was discovered, people found a variety of interesting uses for it, including as an aftershave lotion, and over time they recognized as an effective solvent and degreaser. Benzene is very efficient at dissolving oils and pulling them off of the surfaces of industrial parts.

There’s only one problem: Benzene, like many other non polar solvents, is toxic to humans and the environment. The frequent use of benzene in industry resulted in many people becoming ill over time. The U.S. government banned the use of its pure form as a solvent decades ago.

In the mid-20th century when scientists and workers began noticing links between nonpolar solvent use and health problems like leukemia and brain impairment, they began searching for alternative ways to effectively remove grease and dirt from industrial parts and other items without the same risks and dangers.

Water, the Universal Solvent

Water is called the universal solvent because it is capable of dissolving more substances than any other liquid. People have been cleaning with water for millennia. It’s such a common and useful solvent that we reach for it it as a go to “solution” whenever anything gets dirty. By itself, however, water can’t compete with benzene or trichloroethylene in removing grease or oil. That’s why aqueous parts washers are designed to use heat, pressure, agitation and surfactants along with water to get parts clean.

AEC Systems, LLC designs our parts cleaners around the parts they must clean. Once we know what cleanliness challenges the part has, we can create a washer that will utilize mechanical processes like scrubbing, spraying, or agitation that, in combination with water, heat, and cleaners will accomplish the same task as solvents but without the exposure to toxins. If you have a part that you need cleaned to specification, we can design a washer that will get the job done and done right. We can help with a recommendation for reliable chemistry providers to assist your cleaning needs. Call us today to discuss which solutions we can design to meet your parts washing needs.  







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What Michigan is Doing to Help Manufacturing

MichiganPreviously we’ve talked about the lack of skilled workers in Michigan. This lack has impacted and continues to impact the manufacturing sector in negative ways. Since 2000 the state has lost 326,000 workers, and while unemployment is low, companies need skilled labor in order to grow and thrive. Currently in Michigan 100,000 unfilled jobs exist.

In July of 2016 there were 604,200 jobs in manufacturing in Michigan, and the state’s economy in general benefits greatly when it’s manufacturing sector succeeds. Unfortunately, the age of the average manufacturing worker skews older than in other sectors. Most workers are not young people, and unless that changes, as Baby Boomers retire and leave the workforce, the labor shortage will continue to increase.

A number of organizations have created initiatives to introduce young people to the kinds of trades and skills that manufacturing needs. Skilled professionals in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine) fields in in great demand in the industry. Manufacturing also benefits from the work of those in education or research. New technology, including advances in robotics, directly influences what happens on the factory floor. Companies need computer programmers, production workers, and also technicians who are able to maintain the continually more complex equipment found in today’s factories.

The State of Michigan has gotten involved by creating the Skilled Trades Training Fund (STTF) which has been offering grants to companies who train their workers in additional skills. Right now the State is accepting applications through Michigan Works! for $27 million in grants that will be used to train either current workers or new hires. Companies have until October 6, Manufacturing Day, to fill out an application for these grants.

From 2014 until the present, the STTF granted 1,422 companies these awards. The average award amount was $33,938 and the average training cost per employee was $995.  The awards were split among companies of different sizes with companies of 500 employees or more receiving 173 awards, companies with 100 to 499 employees receiving 537 awards, and companies with fewer than 100 employees receiving 712 awards. Being a small or mid-sized company is not an impediment to applying for or receiving these grants, so companies of all sizes should consider whether offering further training to their employees would be of benefit.

The Michigan economy has emerged from the Great Recession and is doing better in the second decade of the 21st century, but companies need to think outside of the box to find and train the workers they will need in the future.  What is your company doing to ensure it will always have the workers it needs to grow and succeed?


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Grateful for West Michigan

West Michigan

This past election cycle states in the Rust Belt got more attention than they have in awhile as news anchors and pundits tried to figure out how formerly blue manufacturing states went red for the first time in years. One of those states was Michigan, a state that has suffered disproportionately in the past forty years due to the over-reliance its economy once had on the manufacturing sector.

During the last recession everyone in Michigan knew someone who lost a job, and most people knew someone who left the state in search of new opportunities. It’s been a long recovery, longer than most states’ because Michigan was already in recession before the recession began. West Michigan is different, however. The Greater Grand Rapids area is thriving and has, in fact, made many “Top Cities” lists due to its healthy economic indicators and high standard of living. Housing is affordable here, families can thrive, and the city continues to grow and revitalize itself.

Manufacturing too is doing well. No longer limited to only automobiles, manufacturing in West Michigan runs the gamut from food processing and office furniture all the way to biopharmaceuticals and medical devices. In fact, experts believe that West Michigan may become even more attractive to other companies because of the affordability of its contract manufacturing. Because the cost of buying or renting space here is so much less expensive than other regions like the East Coast, the finished product can be manufactured for much less. Businesses here are and are becoming more competitive, pulling more manufacturing into the area. It’s a stark departure from previous economic patterns the people of this state have lived through. West Michigan is far from rusty!

AEC Systems is grateful and proud to be able to operate here. We value our employees and our customers. Of course, many of our customers are not from this part of the world, but we are able to provide them with a wide variety of parts washers designed especially for their needs at a competitive cost because of the advantages we gain from being located in West Michigan and the work ethic of our employees.

As 2017 continues, we look forward to another successful year of providing high quality aqueous parts washers to our customers. Our products are designed to clean without a negative health, environmental, or financial impact on the workers or businesses that will use them – which means that they will make the future better and cleaner as well.


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New Invention Aims to Change Cleaning for the Better

new inventionPreviously we’ve discussed the ultrasonic cleaning process and how AEC Systems ultrasonic cleaners work via cavitation to provide deep and probing cleaning without the use of harsh solvents. In 2015 researchers from the University of Southhampton announced their invention of a device called the StarStream that uses bubbles and ultrasonic cleaning to drastically improve the cleaning power of plain, cold water. It’s a small device that looks much like a hair dryer, but the technological innovation could change the way cleaning is done across industries and even in people’s homes.

Ultrasonic cleaners as they are currently designed work in tandem with heat and detergents or other agents to remove dirt, bacteria, grease, and debris. They are often used when very fine cleaning is required, and dentists and hospitals utilize them to clean probing or surgical devices. The new technology should allow for cleaning to specification with cold water, however. This has the possibility of creating considerable energy and financial savings over the long run, as well as innumerable environmental benefits.

So far the StarStream has proven capable of removing both bacterial biofilms that can cause dental disease and soft tissue from bones – a process necessary for some transplantation surgeries to be successful. Since the StarStream technology allows for the sterilization of surgical instruments without chemicals, it could also be used to establish and maintain entire sterile environments and lessen hospitals reliance on antibiotics and anti-microbial agents. In the future the procedures medical staff have to go through to keep their hands clean could be much simpler.

The ability to effectively and efficiently clean items with tap water has the potential to affect across sectors, including manufacturing, healthcare, and food preparation. The water coming from the StarStream cleans extraordinarily well upon contact, but it also increases the effectiveness of other cleaning products.

Since this new technology is patented by Ultrawave Ltd., it might be awhile before we see it used in other products or cleaning processes. But, if there’s one thing that the enormous strides in technology have taught us in the past one hundred years: no one can stand in the way of progress. If this technology is as effective as its inventors want it to be, the applications of what these researchers have discovered are endless. Imagine cleaning not just without solvents or toxic cleaners, but without detergents altogether and using minimal energy. The kinds of health and environmental disaster we see in news articles about retired factory workers and superfund sites might be a thing of the past.

That would be incredible.


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Green Chemistry: Designing Safer Chemicals

Previously when we discussed green chemistry, we listed 12 Principles of Green Chemistry the American Chemical Society has developed as guides. They are:

  • green-chemistryPrevention
  • Atom Economy
  • Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses
  • Designing Safer Chemicals
  • Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries
  • Design for Energy Efficiency
  • Use of Renewable Feedstocks
  • Reduce Derivatives
  • Catalysis
  • Design for Degradation
  • Real-time Analysis for Pollution Prevention
  • Inherently Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention


The fourth one, Designing Safer Chemicals, is one that is vitally important for all of us, as any chemicals we use today have both a present and future impact. The ACS explains: “Chemical products should be designed to preserve efficacy of function while reducing toxicity.”

People have been creating or refining chemicals to do certain jobs for thousands of years, but prior to the industrial revolution most of those chemicals were made from everyday organic ingredients that were only modified in small ways. Wine can be drunk, but vinegar is useful in dozens, if not hundreds, of daily applications. Both are biodegradable and do minimal damage to the environment.

When businesses began manufacturing items in bulk and from more complex materials like metal alloys or plastics, they started inventing chemicals that would allow them to make products faster and to make ones that had specific applications and would be stronger, brighter, more flexible and more durable. Today we are surrounded by products made from synthetic materials, and many of them are unable to be produced, cleaned, or even destroyed without similarly complex chemicals.

Because companies didn’t fully understand – or sometimes care enough – how those chemicals would affect the people who used them and the environments in which they were used, some of the unintended consequences were disastrous. These include sick and dying workers and Superfund sites. Solvents created both many solutions and many problems. Chemicals solvents were able to do many things other organic solutions couldn’t. They were used to remove dirt, grime, and grease from a variety of parts that needed to be cleaned, and also in paints, degreasers, glues, and adhesives. Unfortunately generations of people who worked with solvents may have sickened, died, or experienced lesser quality of life because of them.

The American Chemical Society acknowledges that designing safer chemicals is one of the largest challenges for green chemistry. The fact is, we still need degreasers, glues, paints, and parts washers, and we need them to work to specification. The parts washers that AEC designs for our clients keep automobile engines running and aircraft flying, and most of us rely on cars, trucks, and planes to get to where we need to go or deliver the products we use every day. We are unwilling to go back to the way people lived in 1900 or even 1950, and chemistry is an important component of the modern lifestyle.

So all of us need researchers to find new chemicals that will clean well and without toxicity. That’s a tall order because it requires a knowledge of toxicology, environmental science, biology, and chemistry. However, if we want our children to live in a safer, healthier, more environmentally friendly world, however, we need to make the investment.

AEC Systems designs and manufactures solvent-free washers. The aqueous parts washers we produce use heat, water, and corrosion-free detergents to clean the parts our customers need cleaned to their specifications. We are proud to be a part of a trend of green chemistry in the 21st century.

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Another Breakthrough in Water Remediation

5597513455_ea15295f15_bAEC Systems produces a variety of parts washers designed to clean anything to specification, so our business depends on cleaning technology. For our purposes we concentrate on how to most effectively remove dirt, grease, swarf, and any other pollutants from items made of metal, plastic, and other materials. These include things like aircraft wheels, engine blocks, 55-gallon drums, locomotive crankcases, steel mill bearings, transmissions, and wind turbine gearboxes. In an effort to design parts washers that produce minimal waste during their processes – as close to zero waste as possible – we are also interested in advances in technology like environmentally friendly products like the washer washer.

Given this, the technology Deakin University announced recently is fascinating. Scientists at Deakin have produced a new material that can be used to soak up large amounts of oil like what is produced from a major oil spill. This material acts performs like a literal sponge for oils and solvents and is a breakthrough in water remediation.

Professor Ying Chen said that because oil spills are common in Australia, where Deakin is located, they had greater incentive to create a material that would minimize the devastating impact an oil spill can have on both aquatic and land ecosystems. It can take decades for an area to return to its previous function after an environmental disaster. In 1989 the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil out into Prince William Sound, and many Alaska beaches remain polluted even today. Exxon, in fact, is still involved in court cases. For the sake of environment and business, it’s imperative that we find better solutions that can be applied in situ and immediately.

The material Deakin has produced is a boron nitride nanosheet and “is made up of flakes which are just several nanometers in thickness with tiny holes which can increase its surface area per gram to effectively the size of 5.5 tennis courts.” The original substance Deakin scientists produced was white graphite, a powder, and the challenge was to turn that powder into a sponge that would absorb oil and organic solvents. In addition to absorbing up to 33 times their own weight, these nanosheets do not burn, can withstand flame, and can be used in flexible and transparent electrical and heat insulation.

Every day scientists and engineers test the limits of what science can do to improve our lives and push back our current limitations. Some of the breakthroughs they have made will allow us to repair the damage (and unintended consequences) of earlier innovations and inventions. They will also trickle down into everyday applications like the parts washers AEC manufactures. It is exciting to see these discoveries as they are made.

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What Is Ultrasonic Cleaning?

ultrasonic washerLast month we discussed what aqueous cleaning is, and this month we are going to delve a little deeper into a specific cleaning option by explaining what ultrasonic cleaning is and what it involves.

Ultrasonic cleaning uses ultrasound and a cleaning solvent to clean a specific item. People are most familiar with ultrasonic cleaning in a couple of its uses: jewelry and dental instrumentation. In both of these cases there are delicate items or precision instruments involved and often parts with small crevices that must be cleaned. These items are immersed in a liquid that is flooded with high frequency sound waves, and both act in concert to remove dirt and debris. Ultrasonic cleaning does not use scrubbers or brushes because the sound waves themselves act as brushes.  

How do sound waves act as brushes? Well, that’s interesting. Ultrasonic energy enters the cleaning tank the parts are immersed in and causes minute bubbles to form and collapse very quickly. This process is called cavitation and involves the creation of positive and negative pressure waves. These waves create bubbles that grow larger and larger and eventually implode, aiming heat, pressure, and velocity of the energy released at whatever hard surface is nearby. This energy acts as a tiny jet, or brush, and is excellent at dislodging whatever dirt may be on the item being cleaned.

How large and how powerful the bubbles will be depends on the frequency of the ultrasonic waves, and those are determined by which kind of transducer the parts cleaner utilizes. A transducer is a device that converts one form of energy into another. With ultrasonic cleaning the transducers convert electricity into pressure: those positive and negative waves mentioned above. The size and effectiveness of the bubbles created is determined by the frequency of the transducer, and most often with parts cleaners this falls within the range of 20 to 80 kHz.

AEC’s ultrasonic parts washers are designed with various stages of cleaning for best performance. These include ultrasonic washing, ultrasonic rinsing, and regen drying. With this kind of parts cleaner it is possible to get deep and probing cleaning that will remove a variety of contaminants including dust, dirt, oil, grease, mold release agents, blood, and even fingerprints from materials like glass, metal, plastic, and rubber without the use of harsh solvents.

If your company is in need of an effective, efficient, and environmentally friendly parts cleaning solution, we at AEC Systems would love to discuss your options – including ultrasonic cleaning – with you.

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What Is Aqueous Cleaning?

We have talked a number of times on this blog about why governments and businesses have moved away from solvent-based cleaning systems and towards more environmentally friendly solutions. Solvents are very effective at removing grease, dirt, and oils, but they come with a heavy downside: pollution and long-term negative consequences for human and environmental health.

Aqueous cleaners also have clear advantages over solvents because traditional chemical methods of cleaning are becoming more regulated and more expensive. Part of the expense involves the purchase of specific cleaning products, some of which have been by law slowly phased out of use, but as people and governments become more and more concerned about the unintended consequences of certain cleaning methods, it’s becoming harder – and therefore more expensive –  to find venues that will dispose of the waste that results from processes that utilize toxic solvents.

top loadThis is why we at AEC Systems have focused on providing aqueous cleaning solutions to meet the needs businesses and manufacturers have without exposing anyone or anything to the dangers and risks solvents carry.  What is aqueous cleaning, then?

Aqueous cleaning uses water as its primary solvent. The following may be added as well: surfactants and detergents, emulsifiers, inhibitors, anti-foaming agents, PH buffers, builders, deflocculants, and chelating agents. By altering the PH of the aqueous solution, it can more effectively remove different substances. Acidic aqueous solutions are better for removing scale, rust, and oxides from metals, whereas alkaline aqueous solutions remove salts, oxides, organic soils, metal chips, and grease. Alkaline solutions are the most common type of aqueous solutions and can be used effectively within a range of temperatures.

Soaking parts alone will not remove some substances effectively or efficiently which is why parts washers are designed to incorporate ultrasonic equipment, spray washers, and other technology like immersion. When parts are immersed in an aqueous solution for a period of time, heat or agitation is used to clean hard-to-remove contaminants. Pressure spray washing can also use heat, along with steadily applied water pressure, to achieve the same goal.

With ultrasonic cleaning, a detergent is dissolved in an aqueous water solution and high frequency sound waves are used to produce bubbles that help dissolve and displace the targeted contaminants.

While aqueous cleaning does result in waste, the process is much healthier for both the environment and for those who have to operate the parts cleaners. Additionally, other technology, such as the washer washer, is available to lower the waste output and reuse the cleaning solutions in solution.

If your company is in need of an effective, efficient, and environmentally friendly parts cleaning solution, we at AEC Systems would love to discuss your options with you.

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What is a Washer Washer? An Interview with Ray Graffia, Jr. of Arbortech Corporation


Today we’ll be talking with Ray Graffia, Jr. of Arbortech Corporation. His company manufactures washer washers, and these devices have considerable overlap with the work we do at AEC Systems. Ray graciously agreed to answer our questions, and we’ll let him explain what his business does and why it’s important.

What exactly is a “washer washer”?

Washer Washer is the name we give to Arbortech’s series of wash water recycling devices.  Essentially all water-based cleaning solutions are candidates for recycling, including floor wash and all forms of mechanized parts’ washing – from pressure sprayers to commercial washing systems like those built by AEC Systems USA.  Our equipment washes the end-user’s aqueous cleaners – often used in washer tanks, hence we offer Washer Washers (WW)!

How complex is the chemistry involved?

Other than restoration processes (cleanings) for the membrane filters that accomplish the separation of good stuff from bad stuff, there is no chemistry involved.  This is a mechanical process and not a chemical one…  Think of your skin = it will pass “water” when we get our heart (pump) going during exercise, but retains blood, organs, bones, etc.  Same/Same w/WWs, where we pass water and the cleaning chemistry under the pressure of a circulation pump, while retaining oils and soils for concentration and removal from the cleaning process.


How does a washer washer work in conjunction with a parts washer?

Parts washers clean parts and as those oils and soils accumulate, the effectiveness of cleaning may diminish due to loading of contamination.  We tie into the washer on a sidestream basis (think of kidney dialysis) taking the snarky stuff out on a continuous basis and returning clean cleaner, thereby, over time, bringing wash solutions back to and maintaining them at near initial cleanliness.  This, of course, means that the parts being washed are consistently clean from Day One and in perpetuity.  Without recycling in use, cleaning may offer a great performance for minutes to maybe a shift, followed by pretty good cleaning, followed by so-so parts’ cleanliness, followed by increasing levels of rejects, followed by “Uh-oh – better do something!”, followed by dumping the solution and making up a fresh batch of cleaning chemistry.  WWs ensure parts always being kept in that good to great range of cleanliness!

How will investing in the filtration of the cleaning water save companies money over time?

Let’s just think about a company who recently (~2 weeks ago) sent us their operating costs.  I attached the Excel calculator we prepared for them so you can see where savings can be made.  In essence, they would save >15,500 gallons of water per year, close to 2,000 gallons of chemistry, ~26 work days of labor, energy (to heat the water ~5 versus 31 times), nearly $10,500 in haul-away charges, and so on, to the tune of paying back a >$36K recycler in less than 10 months.  Now, if they add chemistry regularly to boost deteriorating effectiveness and/or get the residual from the Washer Washer to a point where its oil content means an oil reclaimer might take away the leftovers at little to no charge, or in cases where folks are treating this wastewater in-house, between operational savings and, even more importantly, the savings of their WWTP operator’s happiness, the payback can be nearly instantaneous.  Most WWTP operators will tell us that their worst nightmares come every time a wash tank is dumped — from the deleterious effects such cleaning chemistries have on their normal WWT methods.

Does this have environmental benefits?

Oodles – see above, paying particular attention to the greatly diminished usage of water, the lessened impact of spent chemistry disposal, etc.

Do you see washer washers becoming a larger trend in the future? Why?

I see there being no doubt that, one day – and it is already beginning to happen in CA, the increasing scarcity of water and increasing cost of same will lead to many more installations in coming years.  And if we become like California nationwide/worldwide re decreasing levels of water, I can even foresee recycling eventually becoming mandated by regulators as a Best Practice.

How did you get interested in developing water filtration technology? Was this your first career?

NewColony3Once a hippie tree hugger = always one!  Was this your first career?  Nope – rock & roll semi-star in the ‘60s.  Still perform a bit today (see Arcada Theatre Concert 4-19-15) but while music remains my passionate avocation, Arbortech Corporation satisfies both the desire to help Mother Earth and pay the Graffia, Jr. family’s bills as it has done since I started this adventure in 1981!



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