THE GREAT OUTDOORS is life’s support system for all beings. There’s nothing that rivals the first breath of fresh air while out on a hike or passing by the shoreline. Despite modern life’s many perks, we are increasingly inhabiting closed off ecosystems in the form of of poorly ventilated homes and workplaces. Indoor air pollution is often a result of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from building materials, indoor furnishings, hi-tech equipment and cleaning products.
In the 1980s NASA collaborated with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) to research plants that help to neutralize the three most common VOCs: benzene, trichloroethylene (TCE) and formaldehyde. In the case of formaldehyde, it is often emitted from particle board, plywood, carpet, curtains, paper product, tobacco smoke, and certain adhesives. TCE is used in printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes and adhesives. Inhaling such substances over time can result in chemical sensitivity, asthma, dermatitis, upper respiratory irritation, allergies and headache.
Over 15 plants were researched, and the results further elucidate man’s dependence on plants for continued existence and well-being. As NASA explains:
Since man’s existence on Earth depends upon a 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. Even without the existence of hundreds of synthetic organic chemicals off-gassing into tightly sealed environments, man’s own waste products would cause indoor air pollution problems.
For the study, NASA created an air filter design with an activated carbon bed which worked to neutralize large volumes of air contaminated with smoke, organic chemicals and pathogenic microorganisms. When exposed to plant roots and their microorganisms, these contaminants were neutralized and eventually regenerated into new plant tissue.
A modern take on NASA’s initial design, the Andrea Air Purifier is a fusion of art & science, developed by French product designer, Mathieu Lehanneur and Harvard University biomedical engineer, David Edwards. A mechanical fan draws in air from the top and circulates it over the plant leaves, while a second fan draws air down through the soil and roots and out through a water tray that collects and traps toxins. The selfsame tray also helps to keep the plant moist and well-hydrated. Once the air is neutralized, it is recirculated back into the room.
You can also create a flourishing botanical oasis within your home using the following list of 15 plants that are workhorses for neutralizing VOCs.
1. Aloe Vera
2. Bamboo Palm / Reed Palm (Chamaedorea Sefritzil)
3. Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema Crispum)
4. English Ivy (Hedera Helix)
5. Florists Chrysanthemum / Pot Mums (Chrysantheium Morifolium)
6. Gerbera daisy (Gerbera Jamesonii)
7. Golden Pothos (Scindapsus aures or Epipremnum Aureum)
8. Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron Cordatum)
9. Janet Craig Dracaena (Dracaena Deremensis)
10. Mother in Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria Trifasciata)
11. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
12. Red Edged Dracaena (Dracaena Marginata)
13. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum)
14. Warneck Dracaena (Dracaena Dermensis Warneckii)
15. Weeping Fig (Ficus Benjamina)