Air Purifying Plants – Solution to Indoor Pollution?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution causes 7million deaths annually across the world. WHO global air pollution database released in Geneva, reports that India has 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world. In 2017, air pollution alone accounted for 12.5 lakh deaths and out of that 4.8 lakhs were due to indoor air pollution. This shows how serious indoor air pollution can be. Here we talk about some major indoor air pollutants and how can you reduce them using air purifying plants.
Indoor air pollution refers to the degradation of indoor air quality by harmful chemicals and other materials. It can be up to 10 times worse than outdoor air pollution. This is because enclosed or indoor areas buildup more potential pollutants than open spaces. Statistics suggest that in developing countries, the health impacts of indoor air pollution are worse than outdoor air pollution. WHO data shows that indoor air pollution can cause diseases like pneumonia, stroke, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.
Sources of Indoor Air Pollutants
• Asbestos – Substances that may contain asbestos include pipes, furnace insulations, ceiling and floor tiles.
The fibers forming the asbestos separates into tiny pieces quite easily. The particles are too small to see but are easy to breathe in. They can build up in your lungs and cause health problems. It can also cause cancer and other diseases.
• Carbon Monoxide (CO) – Sources include leaking chimneys and furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces, gas stoves, generators, automobile exhaust from attached garages and tobacco smoke.
It is a colourless and odourless toxic gas. Since it has no smell, CO can kill you even before you are aware it is in your home. Acute effects are due to the formation of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood, which inhibits oxygen intake causing suffocation and serious health problem or even death.
• Formaldehyde – It is present in plywood, fiberboard, adhesives and some insulation materials.
Formaldehyde is a colourless, strong-smelling gas used in manufacturing building materials and household products. Formaldehyde causes irritation of the eyes, nose, skin, and throat. High levels of exposure can also cause cancer.
• Lead – Sources of lead include outdoor air, suspended dust, paints, imported toys and drinking water among others.
Lead has long been recognized as a harmful heavy pollutant. It is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.
• Nitrogen Dioxide – The primary sources are combustion processes such as the use of gas stoves and chimneys, welding, tobacco smoke and kerosene heaters.
It mainly acts as an irritant and affects the mucosa of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract. Continued exposure to high NO2 levels also contributes to the development of acute or chronic bronchitis.
• Indoor Particulate Matter – Components of particulate matter (PM) include finely divided solids or liquids such as dust, fly ash, soot, smoke, aerosols, fumes, mists and condensing vapours that are present in the air for extended periods of time.
Particulate matter refers to a complex mixture of solid and/or liquid particles suspended in the air. These particles can affect the heart and lungs and, in some cases, cause serious health problems like cancer.
• Secondhand Smoke – Passive smoking is the inhalation of smoke, called second-hand smoke by persons other than the intended “active” smoker. Secondhand smoke causes cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), lung cancer, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other severe health problems.
• Volatile Organic compounds – Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are gases that are given off by many indoor sources. Concentrations of most volatile organic compounds are higher in indoor air as compared to outdoor air. Formaldehyde is one of the major VOCs.
• Biological Pollutants – Biological contaminants include bacteria, viruses, house dust, mites, and pollen. Diseases such as influenza, measles and chickenpox transmit through the air. Moulds and mildews also release disease-causing toxins.
• Pesticides – Chronic exposure to some pesticides can result in damage to the liver, endocrine, kidney and nervous systems.
Best Indoor Plants For Air Purification
In order to combat indoor air pollution, you can adopt various measures such as more air inflow by keeping windows open, installing mechanical air purifier and using air purifying plants.
Here we talk about the most effective indoor plants that clean the air and remove toxins.
Areca Palm (Dypsislutescens)
Areca palms are the best house plants for removing toluene and xylene as it absorbs more toluene and xylene than any other plant. Toluene is one of the notorious ‘toxic trio’ (the other two being formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate) known to be hazardous to human health. It is most commonly present in paint thinners, nail polish remover, glues, and correction fluid. On the other hand, xylene present in – solvents in printing, rubber, and leather industries.
Boston fern (Nephrolepisexaltata)
The Boston fern has a high capacity to remove formaldehyde from the air. Since, formaldehyde is present in almost everything starting from plastic garbage bags to facial tissues, floor coverings, adhesives, and tobacco smoke —the Boston fern is one of the best house plants for your house or office.
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea)
The bamboo palm is another plant that has a high capacity of removing formaldehyde from the air. It also effectively removes benzene—an ingredient used to make dyes, lubricants, rubbers. Additionally, it removes trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent used to remove grease from metal parts and as a chemical that makes other chemicals, especially the refrigerants.
Aloe Vera (Aloe indicaRoyle)
One of the most popular air purifying plants in Aloe Vera. Aloe filters benzene and formaldehyde from the air. Benzene harms the bone marrow and decreases the blood cell count, whereas formaldehyde causes irritation and can damage the lining of your nose and throat. Not only does aloe vera filters benzene and formaldehyde, but it also releases oxygen at night while simultaneously capturing carbon dioxide.
Spider plant (Chloropythum)
A study conducted by NASA (The NASA Clean Air Study, 1989) showed that spider plant could remove significant amounts of formaldehyde from the air. It also absorbs carbon monoxide, gasoline and styrene from the air. Additionally, spider plants perform photosynthesis under minimal light. One spider plant can keep the air clean of a 200 sq. meter space.
Snake plant (Sansevieria)
This plant survives tough conditions and can also perform photosynthesis under minimal light, making it an ideal indoor plant. It produces oxygen during the night. It is also one of the NASA tested plants to eliminate toxins such as formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, and nitrogen oxides from the air. Around 15 to 18 snake plants are enough to clean the air for an 1800 square ft. space.
Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum)
Peace lilies are one of the best house plants to remove significant amounts of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air. According to the NASA report, keeping 15-18 of these in a 500 sq. m space is enough to purify the air. It also blossoms so you can use it as a great house décor. Peace lilies are also helpful for dry spaces as it can boost the humidity of the room by 5%. However, if you have dogs or cats, avoid these plants as they are toxic to them.
Ivy can remove 58% of faeces particles within 6 hours and 60% of the toxins present in the air. It can also help remove pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air. Additionally, it helps in neutralizing the effects of sick building syndrome. It is a condition that typically causes headaches and respiratory problems. Studies suggest that it can also help remove moulds from the house.
Red-Edged Dracaena (Dracenamarginata)
This is one of the best house plants for removing trichloroethylene from the air. It is also one of the NASA’s approved indoor plants to remove formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene from the air.
Dwarf Date Palm
This particular plant is especially effective for removing airborne chemicals such as xylene and toluene. It also removes ammonia and formaldehyde from the air.
A comprehensive estimate released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) states that the average life expectancy in India would have been 1.7 years higher if air pollution levels were lower. In a country where air pollution is a looming concern, we all must do our bit to combat its ill effects. These air purifying plants are small but packed with great power when it comes to their cleaning abilities. Easy to maintain, indoor plants can help you improve the air quality of your home and office – places where you spent most of your time.