Selecting the right house plant could improve indoor air
Indoor air pollution is an important environmental threat to human health, leading to symptoms of "sick building syndrome." But researchers report that surrounding oneself with certain house plants could combat the potentially harmful effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a main category of these pollutants. Interestingly, they found that certain plants are better at removing particular harmful compounds from the air, suggesting that, with the right plant, indoor air could become cleaner and safer.
The researchers are presenting their work today at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world's largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics. A brand-new animation on the research is available at http://bit.ly/ACSindoorairpollution.
"Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high that you can smell them," says Vadoud Niri, Ph.D., leader of the study.
VOCs are compounds like acetone, benzene and formaldehyde that are emitted as gases and can cause short- and long-term health effects when inhaled. They can come from paints, furniture, copiers and printers, cleaning supplies and even dry-cleaned clothes.
"Inhaling large amounts of VOCs can lead some people to develop sick building syndrome, which reduces productivity and can even cause dizziness, asthma or allergies," Niri says. "We must do something about VOCs in indoor air."
The most common solution is to install ventilation systems that cycle in air from outside. There are also methods that can remove these compounds, using adsorption, condensation and chemical reactions.
However, Niri is studying a cheap, simple tool to remove VOCs: house plants. Using plants to remove chemicals from indoor air is called biofiltration or phytoremediation. In addition to carbon dioxide, plants can take up gases such as benzene, toluene and other VOCs. NASA began studying this option in 1984 and found that plants could absorb these airborne compounds via their leaves and roots.
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Image credit: Vadoud Niri