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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Living Air Purification Systems - Houseplants

Spider Plant and Boston Fern do well in the humidity of a bathroom

 It may seem no matter which direction we choose for housing there are some drawbacks. Modern, energy efficient homes which are tightly sealed and insulated, are much more economical to heat and cool than the drafty old farmhouse we may remember as children. But then again, the more modern homes often lack good indoor air quality, resulting in the need for purifying and air-cleaning devices to help remove toxic pollutants. Do we have to sacrifice the quality of the air we breathe in order to have fuel efficient homes? Author Ellen Sandbeck, "Green Housekeeping", offers excellent advice on how to live in a clean, healthy, economical, yet earth-friendly way.

During the 1980's, scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had to find a solution to the problem of toxic contamination in tightly sealed chambers in order for long-distance space travel to be possible. Their studies have shown that houseplants placed in sealed test chambers were capable of removing large concentrations of chemical contaminants from the air. It was found that plants' leaves absorbed air impurities which were then transported to the roots and the soil surrounding them. The roots and microorganisms actually digested and inactivated organic pollutants. Experiments also have shown that houseplants can reduce by 50 percent indoor concentrations of molds and bacteria. Even radon was absorbed by plant tissues. 

Dr. B. C. Wolverton, author of "How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office", recommends the following houseplants:

Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
Lady palm (Rhapis excelsa)
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii) 
Jade plant or Chinese Rubber plant (Crassula ovata)
Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata)

Houseplants are a prime example of how low technology can be the way to go. Plants produce oxygen and water, whereas electrostatic air cleaners produce ozone. Plants absorb dust while electric air cleaners stick it to the wall. And while plants absorb and digest toxic gases, electric air cleaners do not.

So, the next time you reach for the hydrofluorocarbon propellants in aerosol air sprays to freshen stale indoor air, think about the eco-friendly, human and pet safe alternatives. Plants wick away air pollutants and in return produce life giving oxygen. Volatile chemicals emitted by the synthetic materials in the building materials, furniture, flooring and carpets, all contribute to the constant battle of oxygen fighting for space. According to Renee Loux in "Easy Green Living", the most effective plants for purifying indoor air include: 

Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema Crispum)
Corn plant (Dracaena massangeana)
Dragon tree (Dracaena marginata)
English ivy (Hedera helix)
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum cochlearispathum)
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)

The three that are of major concern are benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde. Exposure could lead to health problems such as asthma, allergies and potential for cancer.

Formaldahyde is a suspected carcinogen used in disinfectants and found in many preservatives. It is toxic when inhaled or swallowed.

Benzene is a petrochemical used as a solvent. Its vapors can be absorbed through the skin and cause irritation.

Trichloroethylene is a hydrocarbon also used as a solvent.  

Looking at the pictures, you may recognize many of these plants as familiar plants in office settings. These plants are easy maintenance plants, often surviving in less than ideal lighting.
Areca Palm

Bamboo palm

Boston fern

Chinese evergreen


Corn plant

Dragon plant

English ivy

Lady palm

Peace lily

Jade plant

Snake plant

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