Air­borne tox­ins aren’t just NASA’s prob­lem

Air-clean­ing house­plants devour deadly chem­i­cals

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - HOMES - By Rob Sproule

CON­FRONTING a ma­jor chal­lenge to space ex­plo­ration, NASA con­ducted a ma­jor study in 1984 to see if or­di­nary house­plants could re­move tox­ins from house­hold air.

They con­structed a struc­tural “bio­home” to sim­u­late a man-made space bub­ble.

Built en­tirely of syn­thetic ma­te­ri­als, at first it was so flooded with tox­ins that visi­tors quickly com­plained of sore eyes and breath­ing prob­lems.

Af­ter adding 15 air-clean­ing house­plants, how­ever, within days the tox­ins cleared enough that visi­tors no longer showed any symp­toms of ex­po­sure.

Air­borne tox­ins aren’t just NASA’s prob­lem. Alarm­ingly, the ma­te­ri­als we live with ev­ery day in­fuse our house­hold air with a cock­tail of tox­ins. Ubiq­ui­tous nas­ties such as formalde­hyde are found in pressed wood, paint, car­pets and drapes to name just a few. New homes are par­tic­u­lar­ity af­fected as tox­ins tend to emit less gas over time.

Plants breathe, or tran­spire, just as we do. In do­ing so, they pull tox­ins down to their root sys­tems, where cer­tain species of plants host sym­bi­otic mi­crobes. Amaz­ingly, the tox­ins are like fer­til­izer to th­ese mi­cro-or­gan­isms, who feed on them, en­hanc­ing the plant’s over­all health. It’s hard to be­lieve, but formalde­hyde makes our Bos­ton ferns healthy even as it makes us sick.

When it comes to clean­ing air, some house­plants tower over the rest. Luck­ily, the best are eas­ily avail­able and pop­u­lar.

NASA rec­om­mends two aver­a­ge­size air-clean­ing plants per 100 square feet of home, and more if you’re do­ing ren­o­va­tions in­volv­ing par­ti­cle board or paint. Here are a few of their top toxin re­movers:

Bos­ton fern: The old­est house­plant in the world is also one of the most ef­fi­cient toxin and mould fil­ters. Ferns’ high tran­spi­ra­tion rate makes them vir­tu­osos at de­vour­ing formalde­hyde as they in­crease rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity around them. Bos­ton ferns have been pop­u­lar since the Vic­to­rian era and thrive in mod­er­ately lit rooms.

Peace lily: This low­light plant gob­bles up the car­cino­gen ben­zene as it of­f­gases from fab­rics and paint, so it’s a good one to have around dur­ing ren­o­va­tions. Put one near your en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre so it can suck up the ace­tone that elec­tron­ics emit. Peace lilies need to be kept moist and pro­duce white flow­ers through­out the year.

Bam­boo palm: Also called reed palm, this thin, stately plant is pop­u­lar for nar­row spa­ces and cor­ners. It’s also the world’s best ben­zene and trichloroethy­lene fil­ter. Place one near your new stuffed sofa to clean up the tox­ins leach­ing from it.

English ivy: One of the eas­i­est vines to grow, it is a boon for al­lergy suf­fer­ers. Lev­els of air­borne mould are re­duced by as much as 60 per cent within hours of in­tro­duc­ing English Ivy. It’s also ef­fec­tive for re­mov­ing air­borne fe­ces (yes, you read that right). Iron­i­cally, the plant is toxic so keep it out of chil­dren’s reach.

Spi­der plant: The soft-spo­ken spi­der plant is very hard to kill, re­quires min­i­mal light, and chows down on formalde­hyde and ben­zene. It’s one of the few plants to tackle deadly carbon monox­ide, an odour­less killer that ac­cu­mu­lates over time. Set your spi­der plant next to the fire­place or in the kitchen, places were CO tends to build up. It’s a must-have for homes with clunky old fur­naces.

The Spi­der plant is one of the few plants that can tackle deadly carbon monox­ide.

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