Friday, April 9, 2010

Breath A Little Easier

I don’t know about you but the high increase in those who have asthma and respiratory problems has me a little concerned. Living in a place that has poor air quality got me looking into ways to keep both me and my family the most healthy. Apparently there is this thing called “sick building syndrome”. New buildings are energy efficient, but apparently this is not good as far as air quality goes. So if you are in a drafty house, your air quality is probably better than in a new home or building. Imagine that!!! One way to help combat this is with plants in your home.

Although all plants that are indoors are beneficial, NASA and other research has found that some are better at scrubbing chemicals out of the air and producing oxygen than others. Apparently soil and roots of these plants are also important as the chemicals act as a food for the plant so the more exposure the soil has to the air the better. (make sure low leaves are trimmed to increase soil/air exposure)

If you are starting with just a few plants, here is a good place to start. This is according to the website: The Secrets to Longevity (website at bottom)

Top three oxygen producing plants:

1. Sprouts: Grow your own sprouts for food and oxygen! (especially sweet pea sprouts, buckwheat sprouts and sunflower sprouts) You will also get nutrients and good things when you eat them!

2. Snake Plant a.k.a. Mother-In-Law’s Tongue: This one is really cool! It takes Carbon Dioxide and converts it to Oxygen at night which makes it great for your bedroom. Get this: all you need is 6-8 plants that are waist high per person if you needed to survive in a sealed room! Well that and the Areca Palm so that you could breath during the day. The snake plant also removes formaldehyde from the air. Not to mention that they look cool J

3. Areca Palm: This plant removes Xylene and Toluene from the air. It also turns a lot of Carbon Dioxide into Oxygen during the day. Having four (shoulder high plants) of these per person in your house can produce enough oxygen to survive on during the day! They need to have dust and grime wiped off of their leaves once a week, or more often if the air quality is really, really bad where you live.

Top three air cleaning plants:

1. Madagascar Dragon Tree a.k.a. Red Edged Dracaena: This is a low maintenance house plant and is best at removing benzene, formaldehyde, xylene and toluene from the air. It cannot tolerate direct sunlight yet it does well in fairly well indirectly lit areas. It is more susceptible to becoming damaged from over watering than infrequent watering. (perfect for me)

2. Warneck Dracaena: A very popular indoor plant. Removes benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene from the air.

3. Peace Lily: This species (of which there are a variety of sub-species grows best in the shade . Only water it about once a week and make sure the water is chlorine free. Never let the soil go completely dry. This house plant removes benzene, formaldehyde, acetone, amonia and trichloroethylene from the air. It also periodically flowers!

Want to know more?

Here are NASA’s findings (with a few things I have found):

The NASA studies recommend that you use 15-18 plants in 6-8 inch pots to improve the air quality in a house 1800d sq. ft. The better the plants grow, the better they are cleaning your air. Here are the plants that NASA recommends (I added some other information that I discovered while researching):

  • Hedera helix English ivy
    • This one can be poisonous to animals. Someone online said that her vet suggested spraying the plant with water and then sprinkling ginger on it. The animals stay away from plants they previously enjoyed chewing.
    • Toxic if eaten by children as well
    • Prefers well drained soil
  • Chlorophytum comosum spider plant
    • One of the top three plants for removing formaldehyde
    • Prefers well drained soil
  • Epipiremnum aureum golden pothos
  • Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa' peace lily
    • Lilys are also toxic to cats, sometimes even from just rubbing against them so be careful.
    • Toxic to children if ingested
  • Aglaonema modestum Chinese evergreen
    • Prefer well drained soil
  • Chamaedorea sefritzii bamboo or reed palm
  • Sansevieria trifasciata snake plant
  • Philodendron scandens `oxycardium' heartleaf philodendron
    • Effective in removing Formaldihide
    • Can be toxic to children or pets if ingested
  • Philodendron selloum selloum philodendron
  • Philodendron domesticum elephant ear philodendron
  • Dracaena marginata red-edged dracaena
  • Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana' cornstalk dracaena
  • Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig' Janet Craig dracaena
    • Toxic to children if ingested
  • Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii' Warneck dracaena
  • Ficus benjamina weeping fig
    • Toxic to children if ingested
  • Sansevieria Laurentii Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
  • Chrysantheimum morifolium Pot Mum
    • Effective in removing Benzine from the air
    • Prefers well drained soil
  • Gerbera Jamesonii Gerbera Daisy
    • Effective in removing Benzine
    • Prefers well drained soil
  • Dracaena marginata Marginata

NASA also noted that some plants are better than others in treating certain chemicals.

For example, English ivy, gerbera daisies, pot mums, peace lily, bamboo palm, and Mother-in-law's Tongue were found to be the best plants for treating air contaminated with Benzene.

The peace lily, gerbera daisy, and bamboo palm were very effective in treating Trichloroethylene.

Additionally, NASA found that the bamboo palm, Mother-in-law's tongue, dracaena warneckei, peace lily, dracaena marginata, golden pathos, and green spider plant worked well for filtering Formaldehyde.

Chemicals Used in the NASA study:

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a commercial product found in a wide variety of industrial uses. Over 90 percent of the TCE produced is used in the metal degreasing and dry cleaning industries. In addition, it is used in printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, and adhesives. In 1975 the National Cancer Institute reported that an unusually high incidence of hepatocellular carcinomas was observed in mice given TCE by gastric intubation and now considers this chemical a potent liver carcinogen.

Benzene is a very commonly used solvent and is also present in many common items including gasoline, inks, oils, paints, plastics, and rubber. In addition it is used in the manufacture of detergents, explosives, pharmaceuticals, and dyes.

Benzene has long been known to irritate the skin and eyes. In addition, it has been shown to be mutagenic to bacterial cell culture and has shown embryotoxic activity and carcinogenicity in some tests. Evidence also exists that benzene may be a contributing factor in chromosomal aberrations and leukemia in humans. Repeated skin contact with benzene will cause drying, inflammation, blistering and dermatitis.

Acute inhalation of high levels of benzene has been reported to cause dizziness, weakness, euphoria, headache, nausea, blurred vision, respiratory diseases, tremors, irregular heartbeat, liver and kidney damage, paralysis and unconsciousness. In anima tests inhalation of benzene led to cataract formation and diseases of the blood and lymphatic systems. Chronic exposure to even relatively low levels causes headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, nervousness, psychological disturbances and diseases of the blood system, including anemia and bone marrow diseases.

Formaldehyde is a ubiquitous chemical found in virtually all indoor environments. The major sources which have been reported and publicized include urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) and particle board or pressed wood products used in manufacturing of the office furniture bought today. It is used in consumer paper products which have been treated with UF resins, including grocery bags, waxed papers, facial tissues and paper towels. Many common household cleaning agents contain formaldehyde. UF resins are used as stiffeners, wrinkle resisters, water repellents, fire retardants and adhesive binders in floor coverings, carpet backings and permanent-press clothes. Other sources of formaldehyde include heating and cooking fuels like natural gas, kerosene, and cigarette smoke.

Formaldehyde irritates the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat. It is also a highly reactive chemical which combines with protein and can cause allergic contact dermatitis. The most widely reported symptoms from exposure to high levels of this chemical include irritation of the eyes and headaches. Until recently, the most serious of the diseases attributed to formaldehyde exposure was asthma. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently conducted research which has caused formaldehyde to be strongly suspected of causing a rare type of throat cancer in long-term occupants of mobile homes.

For an average home of under 2,000 square feet, the study recommends using at least fifteen samples of a good variety of these common houseplants to help improve air quality. They also recommend that the plants be grown in six inch containers or larger.

Here are some tips for keeping your plants healthy and thus, keeping you more healthy according to the longevity website:

· Avoid placing them in corners with stagnant or no air flow or by radiators that produce excessive heat which can damage them.

· Indirect sunlight is best for the air cleaning plants mentioned (because they are mostly shade growing jungle plants) but other types of flowering plants will usually need some direct sun.

· Take them outdoors at least every couple of months for a day or two.

· Clean or dust their leaves about once a week, more often in a dirty city.

· Over-watering is more harmful than under-watering, allow the soil to get fairly dry between waterings (except for the peace lily and your sprouts).

· Mist the leaves since these are jungle plants that like humidity.

· Use an organic fertilizer on occasion such as diluted ocean water, seaweed extract and/or pour the soak water into the soil of your plants left over after germinating your nuts, seeds, grains, legumes and sprouting seeds.

I found this grid very helpful as I am visual!

I find this kind of thing very interesting! It makes me want to go and buy more plants… but space is always my downfall. Hopefully I will have a house in a few months and I will be able to have more plants. I listed the websites where I got my information if you want to do some more research or read the full articles.

Here is a list of resources for more information:

PDF files of the NASA studies related to plants and air quality:

List of NASA studies related to treating a variety of air and waterborne pollutants with plants:

More sources:

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