Climate Health Uncategorized

Indoor plants can remove toxic pollutants in hours, says study

air pollution

HQ Team

June 6, 2023: A little bit of greenery indoors goes a long way in improving the environment both physically and mentally. A large population across the globe spends the majority of their time indoors, be it offices, schools or homes, hence healthy air quality is the need of the hour.

The World Health Organisation estimates 6.7 million people die prematurely worldwide due to air pollution.

Petrol vapours

A new study has found that a vertical wall of a wide variety of indoor plants can effectively remove toxic air pollutants in just eight hours. The research was carried out by University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia, in partnership with leading plantscaping solutions company Ambius. It is the first to show that plants can clean up petrol vapours – one of the largest sources of toxic compounds in buildings worldwide.

For the study, the scientists used pitted common household plants, such as Devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum), Arrowhead plants (Syngonium podophyllum), and Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum).

“Not only can plants remove the majority of pollutants from the air in a matter of hours,” says UTS environmental scientist Fraser Torpy, “they remove the most harmful petrol-related pollutants from the air most efficiently.” Harmful petrol-related compounds seep into work and residential areas. Studies have shown that many buildings are exposed to toxic petrol fumes from nearby roads and highways.

Toxic air removal

The study team tested the Ambius vertical plant wall system using purpose-built perspex boxes containing four plants or none at all. Then a small amount of petrol was vaporized inside the chambers, and researchers measured the gas levels.

Factoring in any leakage of gases, the researchers said the plants removed about 43 percent of total VOCs in the 8-hour test period and almost all of three particularly harmful chemical classes: alkanes (98 percent removed), benzene derivatives (86 percent), and cyclopentanes (88 percent).

Removing these airborne contaminants, which can cause “notable health effects,” could have “significant effects on the maintenance of a healthy indoor environment,” the research team explained. Benzene compounds are highly carcinogenic and studies have shown that people living near busy highways and petrol bunks report higher incidences of cancer.

“We also found that the more concentrated the toxins in the air, the faster and more effective the plants became at removing the toxins, showing that plants adapt to the conditions they’re growing in,” says  Torpy.

Vertical greening systems

Vertical greening systems are a complex mix of plants and air systems that work to clean the pollutants indoors. The potted plants that dot our indoors are not as effective and we would need hundreds or more such plants to clean the air inside our homes effectively.

Torpy and his co-authors have pointed out that more tests need to be carried out in large commercial systems to fully understand the usage of plants as air purifiers.


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