PLANTING SEEDS: The NASA clean air study

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 -- Anonymous (not verified)
We've made it past February. Ah, spring is near! We've done the sledding thing (which was a blast!), the snow boots and parkas have gotten some good wear and tear. And my son's and husband's ice hockey bags that clog my front hall seem to have been in perpetual use since October. But even with all our outdoor winter activities, indoor time has been plentiful. I love opening windows to let the fresh air in, but when the wind is howling and snow and sleet are pelting down sometimes that isn't an option. Basically, our apartment is screaming for a good airing and a good spring cleaning. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "In the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors." Ugh. What is an eco-mama warrior to do? I stumbled on an interesting report written by B.C. Wolverton, the principal investigator for a study conducted by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America in 1989 that stated, "Another promising approach to further reducing trace levels of air pollutants inside future space habitats is the use of higher plants and their associated soil microorganisms. Since man's existence on Earth depends upon life support system involving an intricate relationship with plants and their associated microorganisms, it should be obvious that when he attempts to isolate himself in tightly sealed buildings away from this ecological system, problems will arise…At John C. Stennis Space Center, NASA has been attempting to solve this ecological puzzle for 15 years…In this study the leaves, roots, soil, and associated microorganisms of plants have been evaluated as a possible means of reducing indoor air pollutants." Common house plants can improve indoor air quality.photo: Else Maria Tennessen The NASA scientists tested to see how effective various plants (including bamboo palm, Chinese evergreen, English ivy, ficus, gerbera daisy, janet craig, marginata, mass cane, mother-in-law's tongue, peace lily, pot mum and warneckei) were at removing benzene (found in gasoline, inks, oils, plastics detergents, pharmaceuticals and dyes), trichloroethylene (used in dry-cleaning) and formaldehyde (insulation, particle board or pressed-wood products, facial tissues, fire retardants, carpet backing, cigarette smoke) from indoor air. In conclusion, the study discovered that "Low-light-requiring houseplants, have demonstrated the potential for improving indoor air quality by removing trace organic pollutants from the air… " For instances, during a 24-hour period in a sealed commercial-type greenhouse, the various chemicals were piped into the chamber and plants like the Gerber daisy was able to remove 50 percent of the formaldehyde, 67.7 percent of the benzene and 35 percent of the trichlorethylene." B.C. Wolverton went on to write How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office. It's a great resource. But if purchasing the book seems too ambitious, here is a quick run down of some good options of plants that are not toxic to children:
  • Aloe vera -- An easy-to-grow plant that can clear formaldehyde from your home. As an added bonus, the Aloe gel is great for helping heal cuts and burns.
  • Golden pothos -- Great at tackling carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde and also it's easy to take care of this plant.
  • Spider plant -- Okay, not the prettiest plant but perfect for the nongreen-thumbed readers. Don't need to do much to take care of this resilient plant. Meanwhile the spider plant will be busy removing all kinds of toxins like carbon monoxide from your house.
  • Elephant ear philodendron -- Great at removing formaldehyde.
  • English ivy -- Great at removing benzene.
  • Ficus -- This one is a bit harder keeping happy but you will be happy as it removes formaldehyde from your home.
  • Peace lily -- This one is good at getting rid of benzene and trichloroethylene.
Keep in mind, a minimum of two plants per 100 square feet of floor space in an average home is recommended, but basically, the more the better. So before the spring comes, go out to the store and bring some nature into your home and breathe a little easier! In 2006, Francesca Olivieri co-founded the company, sage baby an online eco-friendly baby store offering everything from organic clothes and skincare to furniture. In 2010, Francesca started her own green consulting business and is helping families make changes in their lives to "go green." She also writes a monthly blog for The Family Groove as well as contributing articles to Daily Candy Kids, Cookie Magazine, YogaCity, Citiscoop, and NRDC's simple steps. Francesca lives in New York City with her husband and three kids, ages 9, 7 and 4.