Have you ever pondered the air you breathe? It may be invisible, but It’s not as clear as you think?even indoors. A dizzying number of items in our houses and offices are constantly off-gassing volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, into the air. These VOCs are toxic in various degrees, and some are associated with (or even believed to cause or exacerbate) certain diseases.
There are a wide variety of building pollutants that seep into the air we breathe. In the summer, the concentration of indoor air pollutants is often lessened by the increased ?fresh? air flow from open windows and doors. However, cooler temperatures mean we shut the windows, allowing less fresh air into our living and working spaces.
It saves heating costs, but concentrates air pollutants.
Many of us have heard of Sick Building Syndrome, a collection of symptoms (general malaise, eye, nose, and throat irritations, hypersensitivity reactions, and taste abnormalities) related to toxic indoor air quality. Although this syndrome is a more extreme example of the havoc air toxins can cause, It’s important to remember that air toxins have negative effects on our bodies regardless of how visible our symptoms may be.
What might be lurking in your home or office? Let’s examine some common indoor air pollutants:
? Formaldehyde is commonly known for its use in preserving insects, but It’s also lurking throughout your home. The chemical is used in carpets, particle board, insulation, grocery bags, and even those handy paper towels you use in the kitchen. Formaldehyde is strongly associated with aggravating asthma.
? Benzenes are a class of organic compound used as solvents, and are found in dyes, detergents, rubber products, and even gasoline. Highly toxic chemicals, they can cause liver and kidney damage, as well as negatively affect other body systems (including lymphatic and brain).
? Trichloroethylene is another common, yet noxious, air pollutant. This chemical has an anesthetic-like action, dulling the senses and affecting the respiratory and central nervous systems. It’s found in varnishes (think floors and furniture), adhesives, photocopier and toner inks, and machine shop equipment (in degreasers and metal finishings, for example).
? Moulds and mildews, though not necessarily chemical cocktails, are another prevalent air pollutant. Their rapid growth and off-shooting of spores wreak havoc on some people’s respiratory systems, aggravating or causing asthma, sneezing, wheezing, or skin rash.
It can be disconcerting to learn about air pollutants. After all, it seems like we can’t get away from them, unless we open our houses and buildings to the elements (allowing snow to pile in the living room as in Mr. Popper’s Penguins).
Fortunately, there is an option That’s easy, effective, and surprisingly simple: plants. Not every plant will do the trick, but NASA-led research showed ten key plants with enhanced air toxin removal capabilities. These natural air healers purify the air by removing a minimum of 30,000 micrograms of airborne toxins in a 24-hour period.
? Overall air pollutant removers (including mould spore removers): Three types of palms appear to be the most effective at overall removal of a myriad of air pollutants: bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii), areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens), and lady palm (Rhapsis excelsa). Additionally, plants like the Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.), and the ficus plant (Ficus macleilandii) also proved useful in general air cleansing.
? Formaldehyde removers: Some plants are particularly effective at removing single toxins from the air. The rubber plant (Ficus robusta ) and English ivy (Hedera helix) are excellent at reducing formaldehyde concentrations.
? Trichloroethylene removers: The dracaena plant (Dracaena deremensis) and the dwarf date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) are both effective at trichloroethylene removal.
For advice on the best conditions for growing some of these plants, the National Asthma Patient Alliance has the details.
A final thought: It’s not just adults who are affected by environmental pollutants. Infants and children are especially susceptible due to their smaller body size?yet they’re exposed to the same levels of pollutants as us adults. Plants in your child’s rooms may prove particularly beneficial. Additionally, this holds true for our pets: dogs and cats, for instance.
Even if we can’t necessarily detect indoor air pollutants?whether visibly by their effects?they’re still lurking around and affecting our health. Be sure to drop by your local plant source and introduce some fresh air into your home or office!
Katie D?Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.