Improving Indoor Air Quality with Houseplants

 Did you know that many of the synthetic building materials used in building and furnishing newer buildings are known to emit toxic compounds, including formaldehyde?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most indoor air pollution comes from sources that are inside of the building. These chemicals, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can cause acute reactions at low to moderate levels of exposure and serious health issues in people who are exposed to high levels.  VOCs are most commonly released from things like adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, man-made wood products, copy machines, cleaning products, and pesticides. This problem is compounded by the fact that most newer buildings are constructed to be as airtight as possible to conserve energy used on heating and cooling the building. Thus, pollutants are trapped inside and have little opportunity to dissipate outside.

This is certainly not a good thing, especially considering the average American is spending a lot of time indoors between the office and their home. However, with the simple addition of some common house plants to your living/work space, you can breathe a little easier. A two-year study conducted by NASA found that plants improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. And some plants actually filter pollutants from the air. Several of the plants they studied were even found to absorb some of most common indoor air pollutants — such as formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and trichloroethylene — which are often released by the synthetic materials used in buildings and by chemicals found in household cleaners and solvents.

NASA conducted these air quality studies to find a way to ensure pure air for those living in a space station long-term. They found that in a closed environment, there are certain species of plants that absorb polluted air, filter it, and release clean air back into the atmosphere.  Fortunately, many of these plants are easily found, as they are common houseplants, and most of them require little care. This makes the addition of such plants a plausible clean air solution for everyone, even those who don’t have a “green thumb.”

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