Last Updated on August 24, 2016 at 7:06 PM
Health In Focus
  • Indoor air is high in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) increasing risk for sick building syndrome.
  • Addition of indoor plants lower levels of VOC
  • Bromeliad indoor plants lower the level of volatile organic pollutants.

Indoor air pollution is a not well known entity however sometimes the indoor air has been found to be more polluted than outdoor air causing a condition called sick building.

Most people spend more time indoors, whether it is at work or at home. This makes the quality of air that is present indoors a very important aspect to maintaining good health and avoiding such sick building syndrome.
Select the Right Indoor Plants and Avoid Sick Building Syndrome
Select the Right Indoor Plants and Avoid Sick Building Syndrome

A new study has shown that indoor air pollution, which includes the harmful volatile organic compounds, can be improved to a large extent by growing certain types of indoor plants.

Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor air pollution is a major health concern with WHO reporting that 4.3 million people die every year due to the effects of this form of pollution. In Asia, the highest level of volatile organic compounds is released during the combustion
  • Of biofuels and coals which constitute 34%
  • Of fuel for transportation constituting 27%
Volatile organic compounds constitute the largest percentage of indoor air pollution and gases like benzene, formaldehyde and acetone that are emitted from certain solids and liquids. There are many household products that release VOC into the air.
  1. Hobby activities
  2. Paints
  3. Aerosols like hair spray or deodorants
  4. Air fresheners
  5. Mosquito repellents
  6. Clothes that have been dry cleaned
  7. Stored fuel
  8. Office equipments like scanners and printers
  9. Building material
  10. Pesticides
All these products can lead to an increase in the level of VOC in indoor air and it can lead to the development of symptoms. This condition in which an individual develops an acute or chronic health condition due to the time spent in a building is called "sick building syndrome".

Sick building syndrome is a significant disorder that affects many people working in offices, shops or even while staying at home when the level VOC is very high. This condition can affect the productivity of the individual and lead to symptoms that include
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Palpitations
  • Loss of concentration
  • Itchy eyes
  • Nose or throat irritation
  • Hoarse voice
  • Sensitivity to smell
  • Nose bleed
  • Fever
  • Colds
  • Flu-like syndrome
In order to lower the risk of gaining sick building syndrome, the study conducted on using indoor plants that offers a simple solution and does not require expensive humidifiers or air filters to lower indoor air pollution.

Indoor air pollution can be further controlled by storing paints and building material outside and by lowering the use of aerosols.

Lowering Indoor Levels of VOC

Dr. Vadoud Niri and colleagues from The State University of New York in Oswego carried out a study that looked at indoor plants to lower such pollution. They found that there were certain species of plants that were better at controlling indoor air pollution than other plants.

Dr. Niri warns about the high level of VOC that may be present indoors, "Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high that you can smell them."

Testing for Removal of VOC by Indoor Plants

The researchers built a chamber that had several VOCs at specific concentrations. They placed specific plants in the chamber and noticed the concentration of the VOC.

Five indoor plants that are commonly placed inside the house and 8 VOCs were tested in this experiment.

For every plant that was placed in the chamber, the scientists examined
  • How much of the VOC was removed by the plant
  • Which VOC was removed by the plant
  • How long it took to remove VOC
The researchers found variations in the level of VOC that was taken up by the plants. All the five plants that were tested took up acetone but the dracaena plant was found to remove nearly 80% of acetone.

Dr. Niri discusses the results the team observed "Based on our results, we can recommend what plants are good for certain types of VOCs and for specific locations. To illustrate, the bromeliad plant was very good at removing six out of eight studied VOCs -- it was able to take up more than 80 percent of each of those compounds -- over the twelve-hour sampling period. So it could be a good plant to have sitting around in the household or workplace."

As a next step, the researchers would like to test the effectiveness of the indoor plants in removing VOC in a nail salon. Nail salons are known to have high levels of acetone and would be ideal testing ground for these plants.

The primary results were obtained from testing the plants in a closed glass cabinet and it would be interesting to see if the plants are equally effective in a more homogeneous setting.

However, placing bromeliad plants inside the house will add cheer and clean the air, both of which are essential to an individual's well being.

  1. The sick building syndrome - (
  2. Volatile Organic Compounds' Impact on Indoor Air Quality - (
  3. Household (Indoor) Air Pollution - (
  4. Volatile organic compounds and their measurements in the troposphere - (
Source: Medindia

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