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Cleaning the Air on the Inside PDF Print E-mail
Margaret Burchett While we may consider that our home is our sanctuary the air we are breathing indoors is now more polluted than the air outside!  In addition it has been estimated that 90% of our time is spent indoors inhaling a variety of pollutants known as VOCs (Volatile organic compounds), which are found in plastics, synthetics, paints, furnishings glues, cosmetics and solvents to name a few.

Sick Building Syndrome

The pollution from VOCs, even at very low levels, can cause ‘sick building syndrome’ and building related illnesses with symptoms such as loss of concentration, headaches, dry eyes, nose, throat, woozy head and nausea.

In addition, outdoor air pollution enters the home bringing in a range of pollutants.  Outdoor air pollution is well known by health authorities to increase asthma, strokes, heart attacks, other cardiovascular problems, sudden infant death syndrome and in the longer-term, low birth weights, some cancers and schizophrenia.  It is estimated there are 2,400 deaths per annum from air pollution in Sydney alone (NSW EPA, 2006).

Research on house plants

Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney, Margaret Burchett, Jane Tarran and Fraser Torpy have been undertaking studies into the effectiveness of pot plants in reducing indoor air pollution, and have found they are extremely efficient in reducing VOCs to negligible levels.

Margaret Burchett said, “In general we have found that if the pot plants are happy and well maintained they can help cleanse indoor air of VOC pollutants and improve almost every aspect of indoor environmental quality.”

The researchers have also been conducting tests in three buildings on the campus, two with air-conditioning, using different plant numbers to determine the optimum amount of pot plant material needed to reduce the pollution levels.  They found that even the smallest number of plants (6 shelf-sized pots) were still effective in the removal of VOCs.

“Our research, along with international studies, clearly shows that pot plants are an efficient, self-regulating, low-cost, sustainable system for indoor air pollution.  They can be used in any building (home, school, work, shopping-mall, hospitals etc) to improve indoor air quality and promote wellbeing and productivity,” said Margaret.

Star Ratings to include pot plants

The Australian Green Building Council’s Green Star Ratings for new commercial building designs incorporating pot plant installations are an industry acknowledgement of the healthy role of green plants in our working spaces, and in our homes.

The UTS researches are continuing their work into the minimum number of plants needed for effectiveness and will be testing air quality by positioning pot plants near computers and noting any differences in how people feel as a result

Helpful plant species

Any pot plant seems likely to be able to help in reducing indoor air pollutants however, here is the list of the UTS lab tested plants:

Spathiphyllum ‘Petite’, Spathiphyllum ‘Sensation’, Dracaena marginata, Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’, Pothos’ (Devil’s Ivy), Kentia Palm, Qld. Umbrella Tree, ‘Zanzibar’, and Aglaonema modestum ‘Silver Queen’.

Other plants that have been identified from shorter, screening studies as being good are:

Bamboo Palm
Boston Fern
Dwarf Date Palm
English Ivy
Florist’s Mum
Kimberley Queen
Rubber Plant
Areca palm
Corn/Happy plant
Dracaena “Janet Craig”
Schefflera/Umbrella Tree
Peace/Madonna Lily
Weeping Fig
Dendrobium Orchid
Dumb Cane
Ficus Alii
King of Hearts
Lady Palm
Lily Turf
Source:  Dr. B.C. Wolverton, Eco-friendly house plants 1996

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