HEALTH & FITNESS - Plants can clean air in home


It is common knowledge that we need fresh clean air to breathe and we usually think of outdoor air for that. Air pollution is a serious health hazard and this article is to alert you that our homes and offices can also be the source of air pollutants.

Formaldehyde is the most common indoor air pollutant, especially in mobile homes, and can come from foam insulation, plywood, clothing, carpeting and a number of other items. Benzene is released by gasoline, synthetic fibers, plastics and oils. Ammonia, xylene, trichlorethylene and carbon monoxide are other things that pollute the indoor air.

These pollutants have been labeled as VOCs (volatile organic chemicals) and they can irritate the throat and lungs and cause headaches, sinus congestion, fatigue and even more serious symptoms.

Fortunately there is good news. Houseplants can help clean the air. NASA researchers found that a philodendron can cut indoor pollutant levels by 87 percent in only 24 hours.

These researchers recommended placing two to three plants, (8-inch or 10-inch pot-sized plants) for every 100 square feet of indoor space. This may not be practical for everyone, however where we lived in Northwestern New Mexico prior to our move to the Walla Walla Valley last September we had two heartleaf philodendrons which had grown to 10-15 feet long. We had wires strung up on the ceiling to accommodate them.

During the 10 years we had those plants neither my wife nor I had a serious respiratory infection. This was in spite of the fact I was often exposed to those infections in the Indian Health Service clinic where I worked.

Since our move here we have purchased two of the heart leaf philodendrons to use in our living room. Here is a list of a few plants that are quite effective at absorbing those VOCs: bamboo palm, chrysanthemum, corn plant, dragon tree, dumb cane (Dieffenbachia), dwarf azalea, English ivy, lady palm, oakleaf ivy, rubber tree, spider plant, wax begonia.

A local florist may be able to furnish you with a list of plants that are suitable. Or one could the book "Grow Fresh Air-50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office" by Dr. B.C. Wolverton.

Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent four years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 2 1/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.


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