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Why Plants

Sick Building Syndrome

Modern homes, for economic reasons, are designed to be highly insulated, sealed environments. The average person spends 90% of their life indoors in this environment. Many modern-day synthetic materials give off toxic organic chemicals, which build up because of the lack of ventilation.

Carpeting, furnishings, fabrics, electronic devices, glues - such items as these emit volatile organic chemicals into the air. Chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene and acetone accumulate in the air. Humans also emit gases (bioeffluents) such as methane, ammonia, xylene and alcohols.

We breathe a mixture of all these gases in confined spaces (Indoors, pollutant levels have been shown to be 100 times greater than normal). In the outside world, nature cleans the air for us. Indoors, these chemicals can build up and it is now known that these pollutants are responsible for widespread occurence of   "Sick Building Syndrome". This has become increasingly noticeable and significant since the early 1980's when buildings began to be hermetically sealed to conserve energy.

Sick Building Syndrome manifests itself in many ways, most commonly allergic reactions, sneezing, asthma, respiratory irritations (burning eyes and sore throats), and has been linked to cancer and "Sudden Infant Death Syndrome" (SIDS), also known as "Cot Death".

Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration studies on indoor landscape plants and their role in improving indoor air quality included reports on toxins common to the interior environment, specifically benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.

Pollutant Sources Effects on Humans
Benzene

A commonly used solvent, also found in fuels.

Inks, oils, paints, plastics, rubber, gasoline, detergents, pharmaceuticals, dyes, tobacco smoke and synthetic fibres. Skin and eye irritation (including drying, inflammation, blistering and dermatitis), dizziness, weakness, headache, nausea, blurred vision, respiratory problems, tremors, irregular heartbeat, liver and kidney damage, loss of appetite, drowsiness, nervousness, psychological disturbances, diseases of the blood system and carcinogenicity.
Formaldehyde

A disinfectant, preservative, and curing agent.

Particle board, pressed wood, foam insulation, paper bags, waxed papers, facial tissues, stiffeners and wrinkle resisters, water repellents, fire retardants, binders in floor coverings, carpet backing, permanent press clothes, natural gas, kerosene and cigarette smoke. Irritation of mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat, allergic contact dermatitis, respiratory problems, eye irritation, headaches, asthma and carcinogenicity to the throat.
Trichloroethylene

A commercial product for industrial use.

Metal degreasers, dry cleaners, printing inks, lacquers, varnishes and adhesives. Potent carcinogenicity to the liver.

NASA Study shows common plants help reduce indoor air pollution....

Common indoor plants may provide a valuable weapon in the fight against rising levels of indoor air pollution. Those plants in your office or home are not only decorative, but NASA scientists are finding them to be surprisingly useful in absorbing potentially harmful gases and cleaning the air inside modern buildings.

NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) have announced the findings of a 2-year study that suggest a sophisticated pollution-absorbing device: the common indoor plant may provide a natural way of helping combat "SICK BUILDING SYNDROME".

Research into the use of biological processes as a means of solving environmental problems, both on Earth and in space habitats, has been carried out for many years by Dr. Bill Wolverton, formerly a senior research scientist at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Bay St. Louis, Miss.

Based on preliminary evaluations of the use of common indoor plants for indoor air purification and revitalization, ALCA joined NASA to fund a study using about a dozen popular varieties of ornamental plants to determine their effectiveness in removing several key pollutants associated with indoor air pollution. NASA research on indoor plants has found that living plants are so efficient at absorbing contaminants in the air that some will be launched into space as part of the biological life support system aboard future orbiting space stations.

While more research is needed, Wolverton says the study has shown that common indoor landscaping plants can remove certain pollutants from the indoor environment. "We feel that future results will provide an even stronger argument that common indoor landscaping plants can be a very effective part of a system used to provide pollution free homes and work places, " he concludes.

Each plant type was placed in sealed, Plexiglas chambers in which chemicals were injected. Philodendron, spider plant and the golden pothos were labeled the most effective in removing formaldehyde molecules. Flowering plants such as gerbera daisy and chrysanthemums were rated superior in removing benzene from the chamber atmosphere. Other good performers are Dracaena Massangeana, Spathiphyllum, and Golden Pothos. "Plants take substances out of the air through the tiny openings in their leaves," Wolverton said. "But research in our laboratories has determined that plant leaves, roots and soil bacteria are all important in removing trace levels of toxic vapors".

"Combining nature with technology can increase the effectiveness of plants in removing air pollutants," he said. "A living air cleaner is created by combining activated carbon and a fan with a potted plant. The roots of the plant grow right in the carbon and slowly degrade the chemicals absorbed there," Wolverton explains.

NASA research has consistently shown that living, green and flowering plants can remove several toxic chemicals from the air in building interiors. You can use plants in your home or office to improve the quality of the air to make it a more pleasant place to live and work - where people feel better, perform better, any enjoy life more.

NASA Study shows common plants help reduce indoor air pollution....

How can we improve the quality of the air that we breathe indoors - extra ventilation is not at all a cost-effective way today ?

The answer has been provided by NASA.   In studies designed to discover how to purify the air for the astronauts, in their lunar missions, in sealed spaceship environments, it was found that certain plants effectively removed these pollutants from the air.

The work was carried out at the John C. Stennis Space Center in the 1980's.

NASA constructed a "Biohome", a tightly sealed structure, modelled on a modern home environment.

This Biohome, constucted of modern, synthetic materials, caused many volatile organic chemicals (VOC's) to be emitted. Volunteers living in it developed typical sick building symtoms such as burning eyes and throats and breathing problems.

After introducing plants to the Biohome, there was a significant drop in VOC's and the volunteers no longer experienced sick building syndrome symtoms.

Plants also give off water vapor (by transpiration) which increases the humidity of the air. This is also important, as dry air damages our nose and throat membranes and increases susceptibility to infections.

Some Benefits of Live Indoor Plants in the Work Environment

  • Plants remove chemical toxins from indoor air - Namely the big bad 3! Formaldehyde, benzene and TCE
  • Plants help reduce eye strain by providing a fresh focal point.
  • They provide an attractive colourful design element to business interiors.
  • Can increase humidity in dry air by releasing oxygen, water vapour, reducing static air problems.
  • Plants provide for a desirable psychological as well as physiological environment by bringing some of the natural outdoors inside

NASA'S TOP 50 Air-Freshening Plants

These were found to be the best plants for removing toxic chemicals from the air.

The Overall Rating in the table below, is a grading based on the plant's total performance -  purifying the air , ease of maintainance, resistance to pests and transpiration rate (How much water is released into the air - humidity is good for us too)

The toxin removal rating is a measure of the plants ability to remove impurities from the air. The figures below were collected by measuring the removal of formaldehyde (measured in micrograms per hour), a common pollutant in homes, given off by paints, glues and fabrics.

PLANT NAME NASA RATING PLANT NAME NASA RATING
Overall Toxin removal Overall Toxin removal
Boston Fern 7.5 20 Chinese Evergreen 5.3 7
Chrysanthemum 7.4 15 Spider Plant 5.4 7
Gerbera Daisy 7.3 14 Banana 5.8 7
Pygmy Date Palm 7.8 14 Red Emerald Philodendron 7.0 6
Janet Craig 7.8 14 Dumb Cane (Camila) 6.2 5
Bamboo Palm 8.4 14 Elephant Ear Philodendron 6.2 5
Kimberley Queen Fern 7.4 14 Golden Pothos 7.5 5
Rubber Plant 8.0 12 Norfolk Island Pine 6.2 5
English Ivy 7.8 12 Wax Begonia 6.3 5
Weeping Fig 6.5 10 Prayer Plant 6.0 4
Peace Lily 7.5 10 Oakleaf Ivy 5.7 4
Areca Palm 8.5 10 Christmas Cacti 5.8 4
Corn Plant 7.5 10 Lace Tree Philodendron 6.3 4
Lady Palm 8.5 9 Arrowhead Vine 7.0 4
Umbrella Tree 6.5 9 Heart Leaf Philodendron 6.3 4
Dragon Tree 7.0 8 Lady Jane 5.3 4
Warneckei 7.3 8 Peacock Plant 5.0 4
Lily Turf 5.5 8 Poinsettia 5.1 4
Dendrobium Orchid 5.5 8 Cyclamen 4.8 4
Dumb Cane (Exotica) 6.8 8 Moth Orchid 4.5 3
Tulip 4.7 7 Urn Plant 4.8 3
Ficus alii 7.7 7 Croton 5.3 3
King of Hearts 6.0 7 Mother-in-Law's Tongue 6.3 2
Parlor Palm 6.6 7 Aloe vera 5.0 2
Azalea 5.1 6 Kalanchoe 4.5 2

TOP 10 plants most effective in removing:

formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide from the air.

Common Name Scientific Name
Bamboo Palm Chamaedorea Seifritzii
Chinese Evergreen Aglaonema Modestum
English Ivy Hedera Helix
Gerbera Daisy Gerbera Jamesonii
Janet Craig Dracaena "Janet Craig"
Marginata Dracaena Marginata
Mass cane/Corn Plant Dracaena Massangeana
Mother-in-Law's Tongue Sansevieria Laurentii
Pot Mum Chrysantheium morifolium
Peace Lily Spathiphyllum "Mauna Loa"
Warneckii Dracaena "Warneckii"

 

 

 

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