Air cleaning plants are not only pleasant in homes and buildings, they are also helpful in cleaning indoor air of carbon dioxide and various air pollutants.
One of the earlier pioneers in using plants to remove chemicals from the air is Dr. Wolverton. While working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Dr. Wolverton, conducted many experiments involving the use of indoor plants to help remove indoor air contaminants. His research demonstrated that specific plants play a role in removing specific volatile compounds, such as formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene (TCE), and others.
His extensive work led to recognition that plants could be used to help clean the air of toxic chemicals in sick-building-related illnesses. One of the most common toxins found in an indoor environment is formaldehyde. Since this chemical is known to cause cancer in rodents, it is not surprising that it also causes many health problems in humans. The effects range from eye, nose and throat irritation to asthma, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and neuropsychological problems.
The following table illustrates the types of chemicals found in different building materials.
Sources of Chemical Emissions
There are hundreds of VOCs found in homes and buildings. Because formaldehyde is the predominant indoor pollutant, Dr. Wolverton chose this particular toxin in his research as the standard for rating the ability of fifty plants to remove volatile organic compounds. Results from his study are found in the following table:
The University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, has continued the work of Dr. Wolverton. UTS states that office workers can be exposed to more than 300 different volatile organic compounds that can affect their health. The research conducted at UTS shows that plants’ ability to remove VOCs is proportional to the amount of pollution. In other words plants adapt and rise to meet the demand. In addition, researchers found that the potting soil was also efficient in removing VOCs from the air.33 34
It is said that indoor air pollution is one of the major threats to health. Considering that most people spend 90% of their time indoors, Dr. Wolverton suggests that it would be a good idea to provide an indoor environment “that mimics the way that nature cleans the earth’s atmosphere.”
We must recognize the benefits of air cleaning plants and bring them into our homes and buildings. Much research is being done on indoor air quality, and researchers are even turning to the oceans for answers. They have recently found that seaweed can absorb five times more carbon dioxide than terrestrial plants.
Off-gassing from building materials and new products will slowly become a thing of the past. In an effort to reduce indoor air pollution, the concept of “building green” has forced many manufacturers to produce environmentally friendly materials that release low to zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
The studies of Dr. Wolverton show that air cleaning plants in homes and buildings are beneficial in helping remove indoor air pollutants. We highly recommend checking Dr. Wolverton’s books.