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According to EPA estimates, indoor air can be five times more polluted than the air outside. Considering that we spend an average of 90 percent of our time inside, that’s a pranic bummer. But before you plunge into eco-anxiety, here’s some great green news: both your prana and your air supply can be purified with various and easy-to-source plants that host toxin-digesting, oxygen-producing microbes. While a NASA study has found that twelve houseplants can help remove volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) from indoor spaces, air-filtering “biowalls” made of diverse plants can also virtually eliminate indoor air pollution.
“Just as our planet’s rainforests consume pollutants and exhale oxygen to support all life forms, certain indoor plants can act as living air purifiers for your home,” says second-generation florist John Cosentino, owner of Malibu Florist in Malibu.
Another more compelling reason why you should start stocking up on indoor plants is that very time you paint, install new carpeting or debag your dry cleaning, you’re also inhaling chemicals used in their manufacturing. These volatile organic VOCs create indoor home and office air pollution, even if you never smell them. Common VOCs such as formaldehyde, found in virtually all indoor environments, can irritate the respiratory tract and trigger sinus congestion, fatigue and headaches, and are implicated in “sick building syndrome.”
According to the NASA research, the seven top houseplants for removing concentrations of formaldehyde in the air are:
*green spider plant
*dracaena “Janet Craig”
Gerbera daisy, dracaena marginata, peace lily, dracaena “Janet Craig” and bamboo palm were the five most effective plants in removing trichloroethylene concentrations from the indoors. “There are about fifty different types of dracaenas,” Cosentino explains, “so be sure to ask for the exact name of the dracaena when you are shopping for these plants.”
NASA also found that the seven living air cleaners for removing Benzene from interiors were Gerbera daisy, potted chrysanthemums, peace lily, bamboo palm, dracaena warneckei, English ivy and mother-in-law’s tongue.
Cosentino, who designs interior air purifying landscapes incorporating the above-mentioned houseplants, notes that the NASA study offers the following advice for choosing and arranging green machines: “Two to three plants in 8-inch or 10-inch pots for every 100 square feet will help purify the air in your breathing zone, which is an area of 6 to 8 cubic feet surrounding one person.
“This zone,” he continues, “is any place that an individual occupies for several hours, such as a bedroom, office with computer or bathtub area.”
In case you are still thinking that indoor air quality is low on your list of health priorities, it’s worth considering that the U.S. EPA now places poor indoor air quality fourth on a list of the 31 largest environmental threats in the country. In addition, it is estimated that nearly 25% of U.S. residents are affected by poor indoor air quality, either at the workplace or the home. Indoor air pollutants can be as diverse as toxic chemicals emitted from building materials and furnishings, combustion pollutants like carbon monoxide and toxic particles, and biological contaminants such as moulds and bacteria.
The EPA estimates that pollution levels in some buildings fitted with very sophisticated ventilation systems are up to 100 times higher than outdoors. Especially if you have children or live in air conditioned or heated apartment building, you owe it to yourself to stock up on purifying houseplants.
Should you wish to install an entire wall of plants, you can now do so thanks to “biowalls” such as Naturaire® Systems from Air Quality Solutions, based in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. These are polyester mesh structures embedded with colorful, pollution-gobbling plants like orchids and bromeliads. Canadian biologist Alan Darlington co-created the biowall air filtration concept in 1994 at Ontario’s University of Guelph, while researching air-purification strategies for Canadian and European space agencies.
In 2005, Darlington and his team built their first commercial biowall, which reduces some indoor air pollutants by as much as 95 percent. So far, Air Quality Solutions, has manufactured 32-to1,500-square-foot Naturaire® walls in Canada. In September, 2005, Air Quality Solutions installed the first U.S. wall at Biohabitats, an environmental-restoration firm in Baltimore. Protoypes of biowalls small enough for private homes are on the verge of being produced for commercial sale. These are projected to be on the market by early 2007. A wall of living, breathing plants will thrive in any indoor space, providing that it is properly fed and watered. But it will absolutely thrive in entrance areas or discrete rooms that feature skylights. “A biowall can create a beautiful micro-climate in your home that infuses the atmosphere with soothing green foliage, humidity and health-promoting negative ions,” says Lori Staff, a Los Angeles contractor who is waiting for home-sized walls to become available. “This kind of eco-architecture is also a potential educational tool for children, who can learn about plants, eco-systems, micro-climates, beneficial microbes and other science topics,” she adds.