Clean the air with plants

Fresh clean air is essential for health while polluted air is an environmental health hazard.  For more than fifty years the harm of air pollution has been documented.  As the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH NIEHS) points out, initially air pollution was primarily regarded as threat to respiratory health and contributed to an increases in asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and chronic bronchitis. More recently, air pollution has been identified as a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity, reproductive, neurological, and immune system disorders and ADHD (Keller et al., 2018; Perera et al, 2014; NIH NIEHS ).

Yet many of us are unaware that often the air we breathe indoors is even more polluted than the outside air.  The indoor air is the sum of outdoor air plus the indoor air pollution produced from cooking and outgassing of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the many materials (Wolkoff, 2028). Materials and equipment in home and office also shed micro dust particles and outgas a chemical brew of volatile organic compounds (e.g., formaldehyde, benzene and tricholorethylene). These VOCs come from paper, inks, furniture, carpet, paints, wall coverings, cleaning materials, floor tiles and the fumes produced from gas heaters and cooking stoves. In addition, copiers and laser printers often add microscopic dust particles and sometimes ozone. These gasses stay in the room where there is limited air circulation due to sealed buildings or closed windows. Reduced air circulation is also a significant risk factor for COVID-19; since, the virus keeps recirculating in unventilated rooms. See the superb graphic illustration by Bartzokas et al (Feb 26, 2021).in the New York Times  of virus concentration in schools when the windows are opened.   https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/02/26/science/reopen-schools-safety-ventilation.html?smid=em-share).

Be proactive to reduce pollution and enhance your health by placing plants in your office and home. When the plants are placed in the office, they also enhances subjective perceptions of air quality, concentration, and workplace satisfaction as well as objective measures of productivity (Nieuwenhuis et al., 2014). Certain plants help remove carbon dioxide and convert it to oxygen, clear the indoor smog, and remove the volatile organic compounds. Warning: Be sure that your pets do not chew or eat the leaves of these plants because they could be poisonous (e.g., azaleas are poisonous for dogs and cats),

The following plants help remove carbon dioxide and by converting it into oxygen.

  • Areca Palm.  You will need four shoulder height plants per person to convert all the exhaled carbon dioxide into oxygen (Meattle, 20009; Meattle, 2018).
  • Mother-in-law’s Tongue is a bedroom plant because it converts carbon dioxide into oxygen at night. You will need six to eight shoulder height plants per person (Meattle, 20009).

Watch Kamal Meattle short TED talk presentation, How to grow fresh air (for an updated longer presentation watch, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXgWxRUGLwM). https://www.ted.com/talks/kamal_meattle_how_to_grow_fresh_air?language=en#t-100683

The following plants remove VOCs from the air (Wolverton, 2020).

  • Azaleas, rubber plants, tulips, poinsettia, philodendron, money plant, and bamboo palms (formaldehyde)
  • Areca palm (toluene)
  • Lady palm (ammonia)
  • Peace lily and chrysanthemum (acetone, methanol, trichlorethylene, benzene, ethylacetate)

To remove particulates, install an air purifier with a HEPA filter.

After renovation or installation of furniture or carpets, be sure to allow for air circulation by opening windows and doors. Explore some of the following strategies to clean the air:

  • Turn the exhaust fan on when cooking and using the oven.
  • Ventilate your work area (open a window or door, if possible).
    • Move copier/laser printers to a well-ventilated space and/or place an exhaust fan near the printer.
    • Turn off copier or laser printers when not in use (purchase new equipment that is energy efficient and shuts down when not in use).

Take a many walks outside in nature

If possible take a walk at lunch or ask coworkers to have a walking meeting so that you can get out in the fresh air. Being in nature and forest bathing (Shinrin-Yoku)  is associated with a decrease in stress, regeneration and improvement in immune function (Park et al., 2010; Hansen et a., 2017; Lyu et al., 2019). Watch the presentation by Dr. Aiko Yoshino, Soaking Up the Benefits of Nature During the PandemicForum.

References:

Bartzokas, N., Gröndahl,  M., Patanjali, K,  Peyton, M.,Saget, B., & Syam, U. (February 26, 2021). Why opening windows is a key to reopening schools. The New York Times. Downloaded March 1, 2021.

Hansen, M. M., Jones, R., & Tocchini, K. (2017). Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. International journal of environmental research and public health14(8), 851.

Keller, J. P., Larson, T. V., Austin, E., Barr, R. G., Sheppard, L., Vedal, S., Kaufman, J. D., & Szpiro, A. A. (2018). Pollutant composition modification of the effect of air pollution on progression of coronary artery calcium: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Environmental epidemiology (Philadelphia, Pa.)2(3), e024.

Lyu, B., Zeng, C., Xie, S., Li, D., Lin, W., Li, N., Jiang, M., Liu, S., & Chen, Q. (2019). Benefits of A Three-Day Bamboo Forest Therapy Session on the Psychophysiology and Immune System Responses of Male College Students. International journal of environmental research and public health16(24), 4991.

Meattle, K. (2009). How to grow fresh air.  TED2009. https://www.ted.com/talks/kamal_meattle_how_to_grow_fresh_air?language=en#t-100683

Meattle, K. (2018). How to grow fresh air inside your house amidst pollution. Quint Fit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXgWxRUGLwM

Nieuwenhuis, M., Knight, C., Postmes, T., & Haslam, S. A. (2014). The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 20(3), 199–214. https://doi.org/10.1037/xap0000024

NIH NIEHS, Air Pollution and Your Health, National Institute of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/air-pollution/index.cfm#:~:text=Air%20pollution%20can%20affect%20lung,are%20linked%20to%20chronic%20bronchitis

Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental health and preventive medicine15(1), 18–26.

Perera, F. P., Chang, H. W., Tang, D., Roen, E. L., Herbstman, J., Margolis, A., Huang, T. J., Miller, R. L., Wang, S., & Rauh, V. (2014). Early-life exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and ADHD behavior problems. PloS one9(11), e111670.

Wolverton, B.C. (2020). How To Grow Fresh Air: 50 house plants that grow and purify your home or office. London, UK: Orion Spring

Wolkoff P. (2018). Indoor air humidity, air quality, and health – An overview. International journal of hygiene and environmental health221(3), 376–390.



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