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Risk Management Bulletin


By August 1, 2010No Comments

The focus on energy conservation has been making our buildings get tighter and tighter, allowing less and less air exchange. This can result in “Sick Building Syndrome,” with pollutants trapped inside the building causing such symptoms as sensory irritation of the eyes, nose, throat; neurotoxic or general health problems; skin irritation; nonspecific hypersensitivity reactions; and odor and taste sensations.

Causes include flaws in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. contaminants produced by out gassing some types of building materials, volatile organic compounds (VOC), molds, improper exhaust ventilation of ozone, light industrial chemicals used within, or fresh-air intake location /inadequate air filtration). Three major pollutants –formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene – are used in building materials, cleaning products, paint, adhesives, varnishes, and oils found in homes and workplaces throughout the nation.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive and easy way to improve indoor air quality, look no further than the common houseplant, says a study by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) on improving indoor air quality. NASA was looking for ways to purify the air in space stations. However, the study turned out to have some down-to-earth applications: houseplants not only brighten the environment in homes and workplaces, but also have the ability to cleanse indoor air and remove harmful pollutants.

So how could a little houseplant get rid of these nasty, dangerous air contaminants when sophisticated, powerful HVAC systems can’t seem to manage the job? The answer: To survive, houseplants use a process called photosynthesis that produces food from carbon dioxide and hydrogen, converting energy from light absorbed by chlorophyll in the plant’s leaves. Carbon dioxide and hydrogen, of course, are readily available in air. Because houseplants are so good at absorbing these gases, at the same time they also absorb other gases – including harmful indoor air pollutants!

Plant photosynthesis does us another big favor by releasing a waste product that we need to survive – oxygen. So having plants around not only removes pollutants, but refreshes indoor air with regular infusions of oxygen.

The NASA/ALCA study also found that some houseplants were better than others at removing specific pollutants. For example, bamboo palm, peace lily, golden pathos, red-edged dracaena, and spider plant were good at filtering out formaldehyde. Peace lily, English ivy, and bamboo palm worked best for removing benzene from indoor air, while peace lily and bamboo palm worked well for filtering trichloroethylene.