There have been
increasing reports in the news and other media on air quality. During
the summer months there are "ozone alerts" warning the elderly and
youth not to go outside for any length of time due to high ground
levels of ozone that reduce lung capacity, making it hard to breathe.
However, regular air quality can also be a problem in the home and
office. The EPA ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top five
environmental risks to public health, higher than toxic waste sites and
the destruction of the ozone layer. Indoor pollutant levels can be two
to five times (or more) higher than outdoors. The American Lung
Association reports that Americans spend 90 percent of their day
indoors. For instance, have you worked in an office setting where one
person comes in sick and the next thing you know, the whole office has
it? Or walking into a model home where the windows are tightly
shut—have you not felt light-headed and queasy after a few minutes?
These are some of the signs of 'sick building syndrome.' Symptoms that
are associated with this phenomenon are:
Nose & Throat Irritations
- Nervous-System Disorders
- Sinus Congestion
forget is that newer and remodeled homes and offices are insulated
better, hermetically sealed, and that the synthetic furnishings all
have chemicals that 'off-gas' over a period of time—sometimes several
years! Not only are there alcohols, formaldehyde, benzene, acetone and
more in some of these products; the human body also releases substances
into the air.
study done by a team of Russian and American scientists established
that besides releasing carbon dioxide, the body also releases carbon
monoxide, ammonia, methane, etc. These are called 'bioeffluents.'
Insufficient air-exchange, windows that can't be opened, and
bioeffluents can lead to a toxic environment. In a 1984 report, the
World Health Organization (WHO) believed that up to 30 percent of new
and remodeled buildings worldwide would be the subject of complaints on
the quality of indoor air.
consumer market has a host of items to help deal with this, from
desk-top and room-size humidifiers and air cleaners to low chemical
emission paints and carpet. However, a less costly alternative is to
add plants to your home and office environment.
While looking for easy-to-maintain
air quality alternatives for the international space station in the
late 1980s, NASA did a study on the quality of air in sealed
environments using only
plants. They were surprised to find that houseplants were efficient at
removing toxic chemical fumes and replacing them with breathable air.
In the book, How to
Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office,
Dr. B.C. Wolverton lists and describes the plants that will best
improve air quality. Pictures of each plant are displayed, along with
care instructions and a chart as to what chemicals each removes. The
book includes a section on how to set up your own personal biosphere.
Some of the plants you may already have:
Palms & Bamboo
- Rubber Plant
Ficus & Ferns
- Peace Lily & Dumb
- Golden Pothos & Philodendron
Gerbera Daisy & Tulips
This is a small list. You may wish
to purchase a second book on the care of houseplants, as Dr. Wolverton
does not go into detail as to what plants are poisonous for pets and
small children. Dr. Wolverton's book may be found for purchase at amazon.com.
Information and statistics
courtesy of How to Grow
Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office,
Dr. B.C. Wolverton, Penguin Books, 1996; indoorairpollution.com;
American Lung Association; Environmental Protection Agency; National
Education Association Health Information Network; National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences. This article has also appeared in the
Natural Sanctuary 2004 March/April newsletter "The Power of Plants."