Microplastics accelerate cell death at 3 times the normal rate, study says

October 3, 2019 by  
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Researchers from the University Medical Centre (UMC) Utrecht recently announced that cells exposed to microplastics experience cell death three times faster than those that are not. With microplastic pollution everywhere, the findings are sobering. UMC Utrecht scientists presented their research at the Plastic Health Summit in Amsterdam on Thursday, warning that immune cells that attack microplastics are three times more likely to be damaged beyond repair, consequently prompting an immediate inflammatory response. This rate of cell death is in excess of normal immune cell behavior, such as engulfing bacteria or foreign bodies. Related: One plastic teabag can release billions of microplastics into your cup “These results raise serious questions about what microplastics are doing to our immune health ,” explained Nienke Vrisekoop, assistant professor of quantitative immunology at UMC Utrecht and lead author of the study. “Urgent further research is needed to paint as full a picture as possible.” The term microplastics has steadily crept into contemporary literature. Plastic does not readily biodegrade , but rather splinters into progressively smaller pieces, or microplastics. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines the size of microplastics as less than five millimeters in length, making them invisible to the naked eye. As an emerging field of study, only recently have microplastics been the subject of research, spurred by their ubiquity as pollutants . They contaminate the oceans and threaten aquatic life. They are also small enough to bypass water filtration systems and find their way into drinking water. There is growing concern that when a person consumes microplastics, the particles are tiny enough to enter through the gut wall and eventually the circulatory system. “The demonstrated impacts, along the life cycle of plastic , paint an unequivocally toxic picture: plastic threatens human health on a global scale,” said David Azoulay, Environmental Health program director at the Center for International Environmental Law. “It’s high time businesses across the world took responsibility for the plastic they produce.” + UMC Utrecht Image via Shutterstock

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Microplastics accelerate cell death at 3 times the normal rate, study says

Could the Florida Aquarium save ‘Americas Great Barrier Reef?’

August 26, 2019 by  
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Researchers at Tampa’s Florida Aquarium announced that they have managed to make a group of coral reproduce two days in a row. This is the first such successful attempt at Atlantic coral reproduction in a lab setting and could have important implications for saving barrier reefs. “Project Coral” is a program the aquarium designed in partnership with London’s Horniman Museum and Gardens . The objective: to create large coral egg deposits in a laboratory and ultimately repopulate the Florida Reef Tract. Related: Can the Cayman Islands save the Caribbean’s remaining coral reefs? Florida’s coral reefs are the world’s third largest barrier reef ecosystem. This phenomenal system, often called “America’s Great Barrier Reef,” extends from St. Lucie Inlet, north of Miami, to the Dry Tortugas, which are west of the Florida Keys. Biscayne National Park and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary contain about two-thirds of the reef tract. But pollution , climate change and the orange sponge that invades the weakened reefs have destroyed much of the ecosystem. Can Project Coral heal the threatened reefs? “It’s pure excitement to be the first to achieve a breakthrough in the world,” Roger Germann, CEO of the Florida Aquarium, told CNN . “Our team of experts cracked the code … that gives hope to coral in the Florida Reef Tract and to coral in the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans.” The researchers started working with Staghorn coral in 2014 but then shifted their concentration to pillar coral. Devastated by disease, pillar coral are now almost extinct . Unfortunately, the female and male clusters are too far apart to reproduce. The aquarium’s coral greenhouses use high-tech gear like LED technology and computerized systems to imitate the real reef ecosystem and send out signals to encourage reproduction. The aquarium has proven doubters wrong — it is possible to generate native Atlantic coral spawn in a laboratory. It’s still too early to determine how this controlled experiment will transfer to all the variables involved in repopulating a wild reef. But this success has spurred scientists’ positive attitudes about a happy future for both the reef and Florida’s tourism economy. Germann said, “Now there really is hope … I think we can save it.” Via CNN Image via National Park Service

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Could the Florida Aquarium save ‘Americas Great Barrier Reef?’

Vertical forest buildings designed by Stefano Boeri set to center new Cairo Administrative district

August 22, 2019 by  
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In a world of high population growth, it’s increasingly difficult to find adequate housing as green space is diminishing throughout most urban areas. But when Cairo began developing a new administrative capital area, architects and designers jumped into the planning with vertical forest block buildings. Italian architect Stefano Boeri collaborated with Egyptian designer Shimaa Shalash as a local partner, as well as landscape agronomist Laura Gatti to create three, seven-story buildings including a hotel and two apartment blocks. Set in the desert about 30 miles outside Cairo, the buildings will be unique with the incorporation of garden terraces throughout. The design creates the appearance of a living building, with plants cascading down all sides. Related: Egypt’s new Science City International – an oasis of knowledge in the desert Each building will measure 30 meters both in height and width for eye-catching square features in the center of town.  Beyond the shape, the trio of buildings will host an estimated 350 trees and more than 14,000 shrubs and perennials belonging to 100 different species. This remarkable goal represents one third of the total number of living plants in the whole Greater Cairo area. The total green area will cover 3600 sq.m, matching the building footprint. Types of plants will vary to offer visual appeal as the seasons change. As with all trees and plants, the air should be cleaner around the vertical forest with the studio estimating an absorption of 7 tons of carbon dioxide and release of 8 tons of oxygen each year. Not to mention, the buildings will provide their own energy and the greenery will add insulating features. Egyption property developer MISR Italia Properties is building the project, with the vertical concept forest being the first that Boeri has brought to Africa. Previously, he designed building forests in Albania, the Netherlands and even conceptual models for Mars. Architect Stefano Boeri and partner and project director of the office, architect Francesca Cesa Bianchi presented the project and the vision of a ‘ Greener Cairo ‘ at il Cairo last July and construction is set to begin 2020 with finishing touches scheduled for 2022. According to Stefano Boeri and Francesca Cesa Bianchi: “Cairo can become the first Northern-African metropolis to face the big challenge of climate change and of the ecological reconversion”. + STEFANO BOERI ARCHITETTI Images via STEFANO BOERI ARCHITETTI

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Vertical forest buildings designed by Stefano Boeri set to center new Cairo Administrative district

Yes, climate marches are working

July 5, 2019 by  
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If you’re on social media or watch the news, you probably noticed that protest marches have increased in incidence and popularity in this era of Trump. The President’s political and personal actions have sent the opposition out on the streets, including mass protests for issues from women’s rights to climate change and everything in between. Up until recently, social scientists believed aggressive protests alienate activists from potential supporters, but the massive popularity of recent climate marches have turned this idea on its head. The popularity of the People’s Climate March (2017) and Youth Climate Strike (2019) spurred participation from all walks of life and changed the stereotypical face of an activist to be– well, anyone. This critical shift may render marches one of the most powerful political tools. Trump’s election was a “blessing for the climate movement.” His anti-environment policies, like closing national parks and slashing the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, have galvanized the opposition and united groups that don’t agree on much except that Trump is terrible for the environment. Related: Climate change will push 120 million into poverty Climate fanatics have become likeable A new study from Penn State University examined public opinion before and after the March for Science and the Peoples’ Climate March, both in 2017, and found that unlike previous marches, these helped boost likability and support. So, what is different about climate activists? All of the nearly 600 people interviewed heard about the marches through the media, but did not attend. The results of the survey indicated that across political affiliation, participants reported that the activists were “less arrogant, less whiny and less eccentric” than other activists. Clearly, activists have a negative connotation in the minds of the American public, but something about these climate marchers was slightly different. Activists get a bad rep A widely cited study on activism from 2013 concluded that depending on the tactics, certain acts of civil disobedience lose supporters. For example, acts viewed aggressive, militant or wasteful (think: throwing red paint on a fur coat) mostly earn activists scorn— but not support. These feelings of scorn reduce peoples’ willingness “to adopt the behaviors that these activities promoted,” the research team from the University of Toronto reported . “If you were a bystander in 2017, if you were looking at the march, you’d see people of faith, labor unions, people of color and frontline communities,” the director of the People’s Climate Movement, Paul Getsos said about the March. “It wasn’t your typical kind of activist march; it counters the narrative that no one cares about climate change. If we were just mobilizing the usual activist base, I know for a fact it wouldn’t have had the same impact.” What is the point of marches? In general, the goal of a march is to inspire people to support the cause and to get government to act. In her article “ To have impact, the People’s Climate March needs to reach beyond activists ,” Jill Hopkes argued the goal of marches needed to be to gain attention and support from people who did not already support the cause. Garnering this far-reaching impact is incredibly important and it’s where marches can get it right or get it wrong. Surprisingly, survey respondents of the University of Tornoto study, who identify as conservative, reported an increase in what researchers call “collective efficacy.” This means an increase in their belief that together, we can solve the climate crisis . Climate marches, because of their palatability and sheer numbers, may make a difference in terms of gaining supporters across the aisle, but will that lead to action? In an op-ed for Grist, Director of Climate Justice for the Center for Popular Democracy, Aura Vasquez, argued that this intentionality to reach not only across aisles but across cultures is critical. “It’s about sending a message of unity that crosses color lines and income scales. It’s about demonstrating the diversity of the climate movement, the diversity that gives us our strength,” wrote Vasquez. Related: Polls show climate change is a determining issue for 2020 elections The Climate Movement started at Standing Rock Aura Vasquez also makes sure to give credit where credit is due, citing: “Standing Rock is when the movement truly bloomed, bringing together thousands of people from every corner of the country to block a pipeline that threatens ancient water sources and blatantly disregards treaties with sovereign First Nation.” As the protests at Standing Rock bubbled and grew into something larger than just a small sect of activists, the indigenous-led movement began to make “a powerful argument that wove together environmental, racial and economic justice, water protectors were able to attract both die-hard climate activists and allies brand-new to the cause,” said Vasquez. From there, the momentum for the climate and science marches grew. Suddenly, with over 300 marches throughout the country, the climate movement became something that everyone could get involved with, even those who weren’t militant (or privileged) enough to skip out on work and fly to North Dakota to protest a pipeline. Inclusive tactics will reach non-believers Researchers and critics of general marches have suggestions for how the activists can be more inclusive and effective, including more carefully selecting who is the face of the protest and what messages they use in order to avoid the “whiny, arrogant and eccentric” stereotype. Seasoned environmentalists may have thought people would join their fight when the science came out over 30 years ago that fossil fuels were altering the climate. But the truth is that emissions have gotten drastically worse. It’s clear, then, that facts from scientists might convince some, but they aren’t enough to sway the public. Climate Outreach suggests that the visuals used by both the media and the activists themselves also have a role to play in their reputation and supporters they attract. According to the climate communication advisors, visuals that show the negative impacts of climate change alongside positive solutions help people understand the gravity of the crisis. Climate Outreach also encourages “careful use” of protest imagery, since many people still do not identify with activism. However, to the extent that protest images show diversity and unification– rather than aggression– this new research indicates these images may be the turning point toward finally achieving political action, together. Via Grist Images via Mark Dixon, NiklasPntk , filmbetrachterin

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Have your plastic and eat it, too average American ingests 50,000 microplastic particles a year

June 10, 2019 by  
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The first-ever study to calculate how much plastic Americans are eating every year has some unsavory findings. According to research published in Environmental Science and Technology , the average American adult consumes 50,000 particles of microplastic every year. That number jumps to between 74,000 and 121,000 particles if combined with the average number of particles inhaled. The researchers used existing data on microplastic content in popular foods, including fish, sugar, salt, beer and water and multiplied these averages by the U.S. government’s daily dietary consumption guidelines. Because the existing data only covers about 15 percent of Americans’ caloric intake, researchers believe these estimates are modest, and the actual number of microplastics eaten every day is much higher. Related: Microplastic rain — new study reveals microplastics are in the air The research also concludes that water from plastic water bottles is one of the highest sources of microplastic ingestion. According to The Guardian, water in plastic bottles has 22 times more microplastics than tap water. Plastic materials are not biodegradable, which means they never decompose. Instead, they exist in landfills , oceans and ecosystems for centuries, slowly breaking down into smaller pieces through erosion and weatherization. Eventually, the particles become so small they are difficult to detect but can easily be ingested and inhaled by animals like birds, turtles, fish and apparently also humans. The implications on human health are still unknown as long-term studies do not yet exist; however, there is concern that the microplastics can enter human tissue and cause toxicity and allergic reactions. “Removing single-use plastic from your life and supporting companies that are moving away from plastic packaging is going to have a non-trivial impact,” said study lead Kieran Cox of the University of Victoria. “The facts are simple. We are producing a lot of plastic and it is ending up in the ecosystems, which we are a part of.” + Environmental Science and Technology Via The Guardian Image via Shutterstock

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Have your plastic and eat it, too average American ingests 50,000 microplastic particles a year

Ingenhoven breaks ground on a hedge-wrapped green heart in Dsseldorf

June 10, 2019 by  
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In May, German architectural firm Ingenhoven Architects broke ground on Kö-Bogen II, a sustainable mixed-use development envisioned as the “new green heart” of Düsseldorf , Germany. Designed to visually extend the adjoining Hofgarten park into the inner city, Kö-Bogen II wraps the sloping facades of its two buildings with hornbeam hedges that total nearly 5 miles in length. The hedges and turfed rooftop spaces will also help purify the air and combat the city’s heat island effect by providing a cooling microclimate. Located at Gustaf-Gründgens-Platz, Kö-Bogen II will serve as a commercial and office complex covering 42,000 square meters of gross floor area offering retail, restaurants, office space, local recreation and a five-story underground parking garage with 670 spaces. The development comprises a five-story trapezoid-shaped main building and a smaller triangular building that cluster around a valley-like plaza. The sloping facades, which will be planted with hornbeam hedges, open up the plaza to views of the iconic Dreischeibenhaus and the Düsseldorf Theater nearby. The architects will also be refurbishing the roof, facade and public areas of the Düsseldorf Theater. “In order to do justice to the overall urban design situation, the design of Kö-Bogen II deliberately avoids a classical block-edged development such as that along the Schadowstrasse shopping street,” the architects explained in a press release. “In addition, the idea of green architecture has been applied systematically, thus distinguishing the development from conventional architectural solutions.” Related: A rainforest-like green heart grows within Singapore’s Marina One Ascending to a building height of 27 meters, the hornbeam hedges will offer seasonal interest by changing color throughout the year. The turfed surfaces planted on the triangular building’s sloped facades will be accessible to passersby, who can use the space as an open lawn for rest and relaxation. Kö-Bogen II is slated to open in the spring of 2020. + Ingenhoven Architects Images via CADMAN

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Ingenhoven breaks ground on a hedge-wrapped green heart in Dsseldorf

Wild bees are building nests with plastic

June 10, 2019 by  
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While plastic use is going out of vogue with more enlightened humans, it’s catching on with Argentinian bees. Scientists don’t know why Argentina’s solitary bees are now constructing nests out of plastic packaging left on crop fields. Unlike the large hive model with queens and workers, wild bees lay larvae in individual nests. Researchers at Argentina’s National Agricultural Technology Institute constructed 63 wooden nests for wild bees from 2017 to 2018. They later found that three nests were entirely lined with pieces of plastic that bees had cut and arranged in an overlapping pattern. The plastic seemed to have come from plastic bags or a similar material, with a texture reminiscent of the leaves bees usually use to line nests. Related: McDonald’s creates McHives to raise awareness of the world’s decreasing bee populations The scientists’ study, published in Apidologie, is the first to find nests entirely made from plastic. But researchers have known for years that bees sometimes incorporate plastic into nests otherwise made of natural materials . Canadian scientists have chronicled bees’ use of plastic foams and films in Toronto. Like the Argentinian bees, bees in Canada cut the plastic to mimic leaves. Scientists aren’t yet sure what to make of this architectural development. “It would demonstrate the adaptive flexibility that certain species of bees would have in the face of changes in environmental conditions,” Mariana Allasino, the Argentinian study’s lead author, wrote in a press release translated from Spanish. But will the plastic harm the bees? More research is required to gauge the risks. While microplastics are a huge threat to marine animals, some enterprising creatures find ways to use trash to their advantage. Finches and sparrows arrange cigarette butts in their nests to repel parasitic mites. Stinky but effective. “Sure it’s possible it might afford some benefits, but that hasn’t been shown yet,” entomologist Hollis Woodard told National Geographic. “I think it’s equally likely to have things that are harmful.” Via National Geographic Image via Judy Gallagher

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Wild bees are building nests with plastic

A new study estimates how many people will die from global heating in your city

June 6, 2019 by  
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A new study reveals the severity of global heating by calculating how many heat-related deaths would occur in major U.S. cities if the world continues to heat at the current rate. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami are predicted to see the highest number of deaths every year, but with each half degree cooler that the world remains, hundreds of lives can be saved. The study estimates that if the world continues on the current path to heat up to 3 degrees Celsius above the average pre-industrial global temperature, 5,800 people would die annually from heat-related deaths in New York City, 2,500 in Los Angeles and 2,300 in Miami. The analysis included 15 cities, and the numbers may be conservative, because the researchers did not adjust for additional temperature increases from urban heat island effect . The calculations also did not adjust for population growth nor potential adaptation measures. Climate justice advocates, particularly from vulnerable small islands, have been vocal about the need to curtail global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius. Studies show that increasing temperatures will lead to disastrous coastal flooding, drought, sea level rise and extreme weather. This most recent study predicts that by meeting this ambitious target, 2,716 lives could be saved every year in New York City alone. Related: Climate twins — which city will your city feel like in 2080? By demonstrating specific numbers and individual lives lost, the researchers are hopeful their study will contribute to mounting evidence that radical action must occur to stop the climate crisis . “Reducing emissions would lead to a smaller increase in heat-related deaths, assuming no additional actions to adapt to higher temperatures,” said Kristie Ebi, a study co-author from the University of Washington. Despite President Trump’s efforts to expand the oil and gas industry both nationally within the U.S. and internationally as a major export, the average American is increasingly concerned and fearful about global warming. In fact, climate change is a central issue for democrats in the upcoming 2020 election and will certainly spur conversation and debate, though time will tell if it will also spur action. + Science Advances Via The Guardian Image via Martin Adams

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A new study estimates how many people will die from global heating in your city

Study shows biodegradable plastic bags still hold groceries 3 years after being discarded

May 1, 2019 by  
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Biodegradable plastic bags are not as eco-friendly as their labeling might suggest. A new study discovered that these biodegradable plastics can actually survive years in various environments without fully decomposing. Researchers examined different types of biodegradable plastic bags and found that they were still intact after spending three years in the ground, water and air environments. In fact, the bags were still able to carry groceries without tearing. The study was recently published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal. The scientists believe their research indicates that biodegradable plastic bags might not be a viable substitute for single-use plastics, because the rate of degradation is much longer than previously thought. Considering the growing concern surrounding plastic waste , the study could have significant impacts on the industry. Related: A guide to the different types of plastic “After three years, I was really amazed that any of the bags could still hold a load of shopping,” lead researcher Imogen Napper explained. “For biodegradable bags to be able to do that was the most surprising.” Researchers examined five types of plastic bags. This includes biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable, compostable and high-density polyethylene (conventional plastic) bags. The only bag that fully decomposed in marine environments was the compostable bag , which completely disappeared within three months. The reason the compostable bags did not perform well in the other environments is that they are designed to break down in the presence of micro-organisms. If they are buried in soil that lacks these organisms, the bags will not break down properly. In light of the study, the company that makes the compostable bags, Vegware, issued a statement about how its bags will only decompose in the right environment, which is what the product was designed to do. Based on the findings, experts believe the general public is being misled when it comes to biodegradable plastic bags and that companies should be required to change their labeling to reflect the reality of the situation. + Environmental Science & Technology Via The Guardian Images via Imogen Napper

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Study shows biodegradable plastic bags still hold groceries 3 years after being discarded

Brazilian Biodiversity Information System is bringing Brazil’s biological diversity to the internet

March 18, 2019 by  
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As one of the most biologically diverse countries on Earth, Brazil is taking steps to consolidate all of the nation’s biodiversity data and information into one place to support scientific research , as well as decision-making and creation of eco-friendly public policy. In an effort to achieve those goals, the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications (MCTIC) has created the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System (SiBBr), which is an online platform that gives free access to a collection of the largest amount of data and information on biodiversity in the South American nation. What is Megadiversity? In 1998, Conservation International made a list of 18 megadiverse countries, which meant that those nations harbored the majority of Earth’s species, as well as a large number of endemic species. The term megadiversity defines an area that features a significant amount of biodiversity . According to the UN’s Environment Program, Brazil is at the top of their list of the 18 most megadiverse countries in the world. With more than 120,000 species of invertebrates, 9,000 vertebrates and 4,000 plant species, Brazil hosts nearly 20 percent of Earth’s biological diversity. These natural assets can be a significant factor in Brazil’s future economic growth, but to avoid losing their biodiversity, the country wants to monitor conservation efforts and make sure their natural resources are sustainably used. Related: Biodiversity decline puts food supply at risk On average, “700 new animal species are discovered every year in Brazil,” says UN Environment. Considering how large Brazil is— as well as the numerous institutions researching the country’s biodiversity— putting all of that information in one easily-accessible place is a formidable challenge. “When the information is spread around different institutions, one is less able to find it, judge the quality of the data and understand how it can be used. Besides, the time needed to compile the data can make its use inefficient, as is the case in public policies,” explains Andrea Nunes, general coordinator of biomes of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology , Innovations and Communications, and national director of the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System project. To illustrate her point, Nunes talked about Brazil’s special map that highlights the areas of the country that are a top priority for conservation and sustainable use. The map is a tool for public policy decision-making that takes two years to develop and is updated every four to five years. Nunes says that in terms of “territory dynamics and land use changes,” five years is a long time. However, SiBBr can change all of that. How SiBBr works Currently, the SiBBr gathers information and data from 230 Brazilian institutions, like state agencies, research centers, museums, and zoos. It has more than 15 million records about different species in the country published by those institutions. Researchers can use the database to find information on different species, as well as share their findings. Farmers can use the platform to calculate environmental compensation credits and get information about endangered animals and plants. There is also a way for Brazilian citizens to contribute their own information, like pictures and documentation on biodiversity in their area. There is also a tool called Biodiversity and Nutrition, which is a nutritional database of native Brazilian species. But, they aren’t just keeping all of this information to themselves. The SiBBr is also part of the Global Biodiversity Information Platform, which is “an international network and research infrastructure” that provides free biodiversity data from hundreds of institutions across the globe. Related: Cargill announces plan to reduce deforestation from cocoa This is the largest global initiative aiming to give people virtual access to free biological information, and it currently spans 60 countries and has more than 570 million species records. Conservation and sustainability is a top priority, and knowing Brazil’s biodiversity is key to achieving those goals. With SiBBr, anyone from government organizations to students and educators can access this vital information. According to their website, SiBBr is an accessible platform filled with tools to help with the “organization, publication, and consultation” of: Occurrences of species A catalog of species Ecological data Biodiversity projects The use of biodiversity Registration of the country’s biological collections The database continues to grow, and in the coming months SiBBr will switch to a new platform to make using the data even easier. BaMBa Connected to SiBBr is BaMBa, the Brazilian Marine Biodiversity database, which has the same goal for collecting data about the country’s marine life as SiBBr does for species on land. The information comes from sources like integrated, holistic studies and fish surveys which can be used for governmental policies related to the use and management of marine resources. Via U.N. Environment , SiBBr Images via Shutterstock

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