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Clean Air Plants &
Sick Building Syndrome

 

Sick Interior Environments
Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
How Plants Clean Air
Air Purifying Plants

 

Sick
Interior
Environments

With new technological developments and energy efficient attitudes of the nineties, buildings are becoming airtight cesspools of germs and toxins. Building occupants may experience symptoms of acute discomfort. The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that sick buildings cause an estimated loss of $61 billion a year in employee absenteeism, medical costs, reduced productivity, and lower earnings. The term "sick building syndrome" is used to describe the occurrence of acute health and comfort effects experienced by the building occupants; these effects appear to relate to the time spent in the building and no specific cause or illness can be identified.

 

Sources of
Indoor Air
Pollution

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration studies on indoor landscape plants and their role in improving indoor air quality included reports on toxins common to the interior environment, specifically benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.
Pollutant Sources Effects on Humans
Benzene

A commonly used solvent, also found in fuels.

Inks, oils, paints, plastics, rubber, gasoline, detergents, pharmaceuticals, dyes, tobacco smoke and synthetic fibres. Skin and eye irritation (including drying, inflammation, blistering and dermatitis), dizziness, weakness, headache, nausea, blurred vision, respiratory problems, tremors, irregular heartbeat, liver and kidney damage, loss of appetite, drowsiness, nervousness, psychological disturbances, diseases of the blood system and carcinogenicity.
Formaldehyde

A disinfectant, preservative, and curing agent.

Particle board, pressed wood, foam insulation, paper bags, waxed papers, facial tissues, stiffeners and wrinkle resisters, water repellents, fire retardants, binders in floor coverings, carpet backing, permanent press clothes, natural gas, kerosene and cigarette smoke. Irritation of mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat, allergic contact dermatitis, respiratory problems, eye irritation, headaches, asthma and carcinogenicity to the throat.
Trichloroethylene

A commercial product for industrial use.

Metal degreasers, dry cleaners, printing inks, lacquers, varnishes and adhesives. Potent carcinogenicity to the liver.

 

How
Plants
Clean Air

Plants have proven to be important life supporters in that they remove carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. The NASA studies found that plants also work in a symbiotic relationship to remove air pollutants produced by other plants, people and industry. Trace chemicals in the atmosphere are absorbed and biodegraded by plant leaves and roots, the soil, and micro-organisms. Virtually every tropical foliage and flowering plant works to remove pollutants from the interior environment, and particular plants are better at removing certain toxins. The studies found that one potted plant per 100 square feet of floor space can help clean the air in the average home or office, although the addition of more plants would increase the rate of pollutant removal.

Air
Purifying
Plants

The following list of plants typically used in the interior environment outlines the plants found to be most effective in air purification, based on the NASA studies.
Plant Name Toxins Removed
Aechmea fasciata
Bromeliad
Excellent for formaldehyde and xylene
Aglaonema modestum
Chinese Evergreen
Excellent for benzene and toluene
Aloe vera
Aloe
Excellent for formaldehyde
Chamaedorea seifrizii
Bamboo Palm
Excellent for benzene and formaldehyde
Chlorophytum elatum
Spider Plant
Excellent for carbon monoxide and formaldehyde
Chrysanthemum morifolium
Pot Mum
Excellent for trichloroethylene, good for benzene and formaldehyde
Dendrobium
Orchid
Excellent for acetone, ammonia, chloroform, ethyl acetate, methyl alcohol, formaldehyde and xylene
Dieffenbachia maculata
Dumbcane
Good for formaldehyde
Dracaena deremensis "Janet Craig"
Janet Craig
Excellent for benzene and trichloroethylene.
Dracaena deremensis "Warneckii"
Warneckii
Excellent for benzene and trichloroethylene, good for formaldehyde
Dracaena marginata
Madagascar Dragon Tree
Excellent for benzene, good for formaldehyde and trichloroethylene
Dracaena massangeana
Mass Cane
Excellent for formaldehyde
Epipremnum aureum
Golden Pothos
Excellent for carbon monoxide and benzene, good for formaldehyde
Euphorbia pulcherima
Poinsettia
Excellent for formaldehyde
Ficus benjamina
Weeping Fig
Good for formaldehyde
Gerbera jamesonii
Gerbera Daisy
Excellent for benzene and trichloroethylene, good for formaldehyde
Guzmania "Cherry"
Bromeliad
Excellent for formaldehyde and xylene
Hedera helix
English Ivy
Excellent for benzene, good for formaldehyde and trichloroethylene
Liriope muscari "Variegata"
Variegated Lily-turf
Excellent for formaldehyde
Musa oriana
Banana
Excellent for formaldehyde
Neoregelia carolinae "Perfecta Tricolor"
Bromeliad
Good for xylene
Peperomia obtusifolia
Peperomia
Good for formaldehyde
Phalaenopsis
Orchid
Excellent for formaldehyde and xylene
Philodendron domesticum
Elephant Ear Philodendron
Excellent for formaldehyde
Philodendron oxycardium
Heart Leaf Philodendron
Excellent for formaldehyde
Philodendron selloum
Lacy Tree Philodenron
Excellent for formaldehyde
Rhododendron indicum
Azalea
Good for formaldehyde
Sansevieria trifasciata "Laurentii"
Mother-in-law’s Tongue
Excellent for benzene and formaldehyde, good for trichloroethylene
Schefflera arboricola
Miniature Umbrella Plant
Good for benzene, formaldehyde and toluene
Spathiphyllum "Mauna Loa"
Peace Lily
Excellent for benzene and trichloroethylene, good for formaldehyde
Syngonium podophyllum
Arrowhead Plant
Good for formaldehyde
Tradescantia sillamontana
Oyster Plant
Good for formaldehyde

References

Prescod, A.W. (1992). More indoor plants as air purifiers. Pappus, 11:4.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (1991). Sick building syndrome. Air and Radiation, Indoor Air Facts, 4.

Wolverton, B.C. (1990). Interior Landscape Plants and Their Role in Improving Indoor Air Quality. Wolverton Environmental Services Inc., Picayune, Mississippi.