Common indoor houseplants may provide a valuable weapon in the fight against rising levels of indoor air pollution. The plants in your office or home are not only decorative, but NASA scientists are finding them surprisingly useful in absorbing potentially harmful gases and cleaning the air inside modern buildings.
A sophisticated pollution-absorbing device: the common indoor plant may provide a natural way of helping combat "Sick Building Syndrome".
Research into the use of biological processes to solve environmental problems, both on Earth and in space has been carried out for many years by Dr. Bill Wolverton, formerly a senior research scientist at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center, Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Based on preliminary evaluations of the use of common indoor plants for indoor air purification and revitalization a study using about a dozen popular varieties of houseplants was done to determine their effectiveness in removing several key pollutants associated with indoor air pollution.
NASA research on indoor plants found that living plants are so efficient at absorbing contaminants in the air that some will be launched into space as part of the biological life support system aboard future orbiting space stations.
While more research is needed, Wolverton’s study showed that common indoor landscaping plants can remove certain pollutants from the indoor environment. "We feel that future results will provide an even stronger argument that common indoor landscaping plants can be a very effective part of a system used to provide pollution free homes and work places", he concludes.
Each plant type was placed in sealed, Plexiglas chambers in which chemicals were injected. Philodendron, spider plant and the golden pothos were labeled the most effective in removing formaldehyde molecules.
Flowering plants such as gerbera daisy and chrysanthemums were rated superior in removing benzene from the chamber atmosphere. Other good performers are Dracaena Massangeana, Spathiphyllum, and Golden Pothos. "Plants take substances out of the air through the tiny openings in their leaves," Wolverton said. "But research in our laboratories has determined that plant leaves, roots and soil bacteria are allimportant in removing trace levels of toxic vapors".
"Combining nature with technology can increase the effectiveness of plants in removing air pollutants," he said. "A living air cleaner is created by combining activated carbon and a fan with a potted plant. The roots of the plant grow right in the carbon and slowly degrade the chemicals absorbed there," Wolverton explains.
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