An interesting article in the Tuesday, March 15th, edition of the Wall St. Journal prompted me to do further research. The article discussed using plants to detoxify indoor air.

Many people today experience Sick Building Syndrome(SBS). 

NASA recognized that the Skylab space station could potentially be a “sick building.” In 1973, NASA found 107 volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) in the Skylab air. These VOC’s included formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene and xylene. Another NASA project was the creation of the BioHome, a small, tightly sealed, 45 foot x 16 foot building made entirely of synthetic materials. Upon entering the BioHome, people experienced burning eyes and respiratory difficulty, hallmark signs of SBS. However, once houseplants were introduced into the BioHome, people were able to enter without experiencing those symptoms. An analysis of the air after plants were placed in the BioHome, indicated that almost all of the VOC’s were gone.

We cannot escape VOC’s. Theses chemicals are all around us, and each presents a challenge to human health.

Formaldehyde is everywhere and in most everything. It is used in particle board and pressed wood, home cleaning supplies, carpet backing, fire retardants, paper towels, grocery bags and much more. Formaldehyde can trigger asthma attacks, cause headaches and irritate all the mucous membranes, e.g., nose and throat.

Benzene is found in household cleaning products, gasoline, paints, inks, plastics and rubber. Benzene has been found to cause headaches, fatigue, psychological disturbances, anemia and bone marrow diseases.

Xylene is used in the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles, polyester clothing, paints, varnishes, and in gasoline. Xylene has been associated with headaches, dizziness, mental confusion and lack of muscle coordination.

Trichloroethylene is used in printing inks, paints, varnishes and adhesives. It is a central nervous system depressant and it can cause headaches, dizziness and confusion.

Modern air purifiers using HEPA, carbon and zeolite filters certainly are helpful in cleaning the air inside our homes or offices. However, unless you have a central filter, several filters are needed throughout your indoor space. Air purifiers are expensive, and they must be maintained, and they run on electricity. However, as seen in the Biohome experiment, there is another way to address the VOC’s and to reduce their negative impact on our health.

Plants can be placed throughout one’s indoor environment, and all one must do is water them and give them plant food once in a while. Which toxins can plants remove from the air? Research done at NASA, the University of Technology (in Sydney, Australia), and the University of Georgia have confirmed that a number of plants are very efficient at removing formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, carbon monoxide and trichloroethylene. Some also are excellent air humidifiers and others are helpful in removing mold.

Studies have been performed wherein a plant was placed in a closed system, and a baseline reading for a specific toxin, e.g., formaldehyde, was taken. A fixed amount of that toxin was then introduced into the closed system. Periodic readings were taken to measure the effectiveness of the plant in reducing the amount of that toxin in the air. These tests confirmed that a single Boston Fern can remove 1800 micrograms of formaldehyde from the air in one hour. An EPA study found that the average amount of formaldehyde in a typical 10×10 room in a home is about 1800 micrograms.

Certain plants are better than others at removing specific toxins. 

Below is a brief list of plants that are beneficial for a variety of purposes.

The Boston Fern, English Ivy, Areca Palm, and Spider Plant are all efficient in removing formaldehyde, benzene, xylene and carbon monoxide.

The Boston Fern is the best plant for formaldehyde removal, while the Areca Palm is the best for removing xylene. English Ivy also removes mold and animal feces from the air. However, English Ivy is toxic if eaten, so it must be kept away from small children and pets.

How many plants are needed? It is estimated that one 6 inch plant per 100 square feet of interior space would be sufficient to significantly cleanse the air of the chemicals listed. It is important to keep the leaves clean, because the pores in the leaves absorb the toxins. It is also important to keep the soil area free from leaf debris. The NASA study found that the more air that circulated through the roots, the more effective the plants were at removing toxins.

Plants – an elegant and cost-effective solution to a serious problem!

© 2011, Mark A. Breiner, DDS

The information presented is for educational purposes only. You should consult a qualified health practitioner for diagnosis and treatment.

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