Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Clearing the air

As autumn descends upon us, winter is following closely on its heels. With the cooler temps comes the dreaded closed-up-house syndrome. Windows and doors are shut and, in an effort to preserve energy, weatherstripping, thermal drapes, etc. are put into use to further keep the warm inside air from escaping. Wonderful, right?

Not so much. While saving energy is always a noble effort, the results are sometimes less than desirable. The fact is -- indoor air is likely to be much more polluted than the air outside! Trapping the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) indoors with your family can have some pretty nasty results.

Pollution? Inside?! Yep. VOCs come from carpeting adhesives, paint, wood varnishes and more. Then there are the toxic cleaning, laundry and personal care products that may be used (although, if you've been reading the blog long enough, you know I consistently provide suggestions for alternatives to toxic products). And let's not forget the dirty electricity emitting from your electronic equipment and those energy-saving culprits, CFLs.

Yuck. Just thinking about it makes me happy we're having an Indian summer day and I can have the windows and doors open. But that's not going to be the case later in the week.

Before you trap the pollution inside with your little ones, stock up on some healthy plants and let them work their magic around your home. Hang an asparagus fern in the nursery. Put a purple heart plant or a variegated wax plant in the home office. These, along with the purple waffle plant and English ivy, have been listed as the top five "super ornamentals" identified by a team of researchers at the University of Georgia as having the highest content of contaminant remover (phytoremediation).

According to an article at insciences.org by Helen Fosgate, "... harmful indoor air pollutants can cause a host of serious illnesses, including asthma, cancer, reproductive and neurological disorders -- and more than 1.6 million deaths a year, according to a 2002 World Health Organization report. The VOCs emanate from furnishings, carpets, plastics, cleaning products, building materials like drywall, paint, solvents and adhesives. Even tap water can be a source of VOCs. The air inside homes and offices is often a concentrated source of these pollutants, in some cases up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air, according to research."

We all need to take this very seriously. Knowing that something natural, like a plant, can improve the indoor air that we breathe shouldn't be surprising. It's just another bit of common sense.

Stanley Kays, UGA horticulture researcher and one of the study’s authors, indicates that simply introducing common ornamentals into indoor spaces has the potential to significantly improve the quality of indoor air.

While the above are listed as the five most effective plants for eliminating indoor pollutants, there are others that are useful as well. I wrote about this back in September 2009. If you want to learn more, check out the post, which includes a list of other plants known for reducing toxins inside the home.

Keeping it green and healthy,


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