Indoor Air Pollution and Plants by Guest Blogger, October 31 2008, 0 Comments

Photo courtesy of AnnieAnniePancake via Flickr.

Adding up the hours we spend at work, at home and at the places in between, it appears that most Americans are indoors for roughly 90 percent of their time. While that statistic might horrify outdoorsy folks and might strike urbanites as just about right, living nearly every minute in a series of boxes has insidious implications for our health. Many of us never consider indoor air pollution, terms like "sick building syndrome" never even cross our minds.

Yet this is a growing concern, with buildings being constructed more air-tight in the name of energy conservation, sometimes indoor air quality can be far worse than the outdoor air. Construction material, paints, solvents, synthetic carpeting can introduce a witch's brew of indoor air pollutants that continue to be released from everyday items (furniture, carpet, etc.), in a process called off-gassing. Limited air ventilation and little or no circulation of fresh air in indoor environments can be quite dangerous to human health.

There is no reason to call for leaky windows—energy conservation is a very important goal. However, there are other, more reasonable and simple steps that can reduce the threat of this ‘sick building syndrome’.

  • First, buy house plants. Research performed over decades by scientists at NASA has shown—albeit somewhat inconclusively—that house plants do a fair job of cleaning up common indoor air pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde. Certain plants perform better than others and the right number depends on the size of the space (2 or 3 per 100 square feet), so do research to determine your needs.
  • Secondly, make conscientious purchases. Products, such as mattresses and carpets, that do not off-gas are becoming common. Though these will cost more than traditionally made items, you will likely sleep better knowing your mattress does not release potentially carcinogenic gases.
  • Thirdly, conduct routine maintenance of HVAC systems, e.g., periodic cleaning or replacement of filters; replacement of water-stained ceiling tile and carpeting; venting contaminant source emissions to the outdoors; storage and use of paints, adhesives, solvents, and pesticides in well ventilated areas; and use of these pollutant sources during periods of non-occupancy. Always allow time for building materials in new or remodeled areas to off-gas pollutants before occupancy.
  • And lastly, open a window if you can. A little ventilation can go a long way in removing indoor air pollutants.

Guest Blogger: Jessie Mee