Plants: A Simple Tool To Detox Your Home or Office

by Ms. S on June 21, 2010

Please note that this section contains my personal notes from my readings on this topic.

NASA Plant Studies
As plans for a manned moonbase were developed, NASA scientists began to study the feasibility of a closed ecological life-support system. Skylab missions revealed additional problems facing inhabitants of a closed facility. Analyses of the air inside spacecraft proved that air quality would be a major concern. Monitoring by a highly sensitive gas chromatograph coupled with a mass spectrometer detected the presence of more than 300 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air inside the spacecraft during occupancy of its crew.

In 1980 NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center first discovered that houseplants could remove VOCs from sealed test chambers. NASA’s studies, published in 1984, demonstrated the ability of plants to remove formaldehyde from test chambers. These findings were enthusiastically received by the public and, in particular, by interior plantscapers and houseplant growers. Realizing the potential value of this research, the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) jointly funded a two-year study with NASA to further evaluate the ability of 12 common houseplants to remove formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene from sealed chambers.

How To Grow Fresh Air: 50 Plants That Purify Your Home or Office (1996) by Dr. B.C. Wolverton; page 21

NASA’s “Biohome”

NASA developed a small, tightly sealed structure called the “Biohome.”  With its futuristic design, the Biohome was engineered to achieve maximum air and energy insulation.  Because the interior was constructed of plastic and other synthetic materials, the emission of many VOCs was anticipated.  People entering the Biohome experienced typical symptoms, such as burning eyes and throat, and breathing problems.

Air samples were taken before and after the addition of indoor plants and an activated- carbon plant filter.  This fan-assisted planter had the VOC removal capacity of approximately 15 houseplants.  Six large philodendrons and one fan-assisted activated-carbon planter containing gold pothos were placed inside the Biohome.  After several days, air samples were again analyzed and showed substantial reduction of VOCs.  Chemical analyses of VOC removal were important for scientific validation.  However, the ultimate proof was exhibited by the fact that individuals who entered the Biohome no longer experienced symptoms associated with sick building syndrome.  The Biohome study provided proof that plants can become an integral component in maintaining healthy air inside hermetically sealed buildings.

The ability of houseplants to improve the quality of the air we breathe is now accepted scientific fact.

How To Grow Fresh Air: 50 Plants That Purify Your Home or Office (1996) by Dr. B.C. Wolverton; pages 21 – 22

Toxic Gas Removal By Plants

In 1990 PCAC and Wolverton Environmental Services, Inc. began to cosponsor research that continues to expand upon the earlier NASA research.  Fifty houseplants have been tested to date for their ability to remove various toxic gases from sealed test-chambers.  Because formaldehyde is the most commonly found toxin in indoor air, the ability to remove this substance from the air was used as the standard for rating these plants.  Numerous sources of formaldehyde are present in the buildings we inhabit.  It is found in various resins and is used to treat many consumer products, including garbage bags, paper towels, facial tissues, fabrics, permanent-press clothing, carpet-backing, floor-coverings and adhesives.  Formaldehyde is released by gas stoves and is found in tobacco smoke.  It is also used in building materials such as plywood, particle-board and paneling.  Both plywood and particle-board are used extensively in the manufacture of domestic and office furniture and fittings.

Numerous adverse health problems have been ascribed to formaldehyde exposure, ranging from well-documented effects such as eye, nose and throat irritation, to more controversial claims including asthma, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and neuropsychological problems.  Although evidence of cancer formation in rodents exposed to formaldehyde is unequivocal, the extrapolation of these results to humans has been controversial.

Studies have shown that plants play a major role in delivering airborne toxins to microbes living around their roots, which can then break down the toxin.  The adaptation of microbes to this task is the key to houseplants becoming better fighters against air pollution.

How To Grow Fresh Air: 50 Plants That Purify Your Home or Office (1996) by Dr. B.C. Wolverton; pages 23 – 24


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