Is Your Home's Air Unhealthy? Try Plants
Plants Can Remove Harmful Indoor Airborne Contaminants, Study Says
WebMD News Archive
Dec. 4, 2009 -- Certain plants can remove dangerous airborne contaminants
commonly found in homes, new research suggests.
The contaminants plants can remove from the air include harmful volatile
organic compounds such as benzene, toluene, octane, alpha-pinene, and
trichloroethylene (TCE), the researchers say in a study published in the August
issue of HortScience.
Of 28 indoor plants tested, Stanley Kays, PhD, of the University of Georgia
and his horticultural team identified five “super ornamentals” that had the
highest rates of contaminant removal, a process called phytoremediation.
These are the red ivy (Hemigraphis alternata), English ivy (Hedera
helix), variegated wax plant (Hoya cornosa), asparagus fern
(Asparagus densiflorus), and the purple heart (Tradescantia
pallida), the study says.
The scientists placed the plants in glass, gas-tight containers, exposing
them to common volatile organic compounds found indoors. And the plants did a
good job of removing the airborne contaminants.
Researchers say there may be thousands of plants capable of removing
Volatile organic compounds are likely wafting about in every house, Kays
tells WebMD. They’re given off by home furnishings, carpets, plastics, cleaning
products, building materials such as drywall, paint, solvents, adhesives, and
even tap water, Kays says.
The pollutants have been linked to many illnesses, including asthma, cancer,
and reproductive and neurological disorders, and claim 1.6 million lives a
year, he says, attributing that number to the World Health Organization.
Air inside homes and offices is often a concentrated source of such
pollutants, in some cases up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air, Kays
No one yet knows why some plants are effective at remediation, but he and
other scientists are digging for answers.
“We also want to determine the species and number of plants needed in a
house or office to neutralize problem contaminants,” he says in a news release.
“The idea that plants take up volatile compounds isn’t as much of a surprise as
the poor air quality we measured inside some of the homes we tested.”
There is no affordable way for average consumers to determine the air
quality of their homes, Kays says.