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I’ve always been a big fan of city living. I love being able to walk to the shops and have access to plenty of dining, culture, arts and public transportation options.
But I’ll admit there are definite advantages to living in a more rural setting. And one of them is being surrounded by green, growing things.
In one study, Harvard researchers found women living in areas with more greenery were 12 percent less likely to die than women living in areas with the least vegetation. They also had lower levels of depression and reduced rates of cancer and respiratory disease, likely because all that greenery helps reduce pollution.
I’d certainly prefer to have less exposure to pollution, especially the type that can cause cancer. But I’m not willing or able to pack up and move to the country.
So what’s a city girl to do?
Just bring the greenery inside…
Plants can detox the air
According to the World Health Organization, poor air quality is responsible for 6.7 million premature deaths worldwide. And we’re not just talking about outdoor air…
The air within our homes and other buildings can be even more polluted than outdoor air even in the largest, most industrialized cities. And since most people spend 90 percent of their time indoors at home, school or the workplace, it’s especially important to keep your indoor air as clean as possible.
That’s where having plants can help. Previous studies on indoor plants have shown they can absorb a wide range of indoor air contaminants, including benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and carbon monoxide.
To get a more detailed picture, Australian researchers conducted a study into the ability of plants to clean up exhaust fumes. These fumes from gas combustion engines are one of the largest sources of toxic compounds in buildings.
Because offices and residential apartment buildings are often connected directly to parking areas, it’s difficult to avoid the intrusion of harmful gas-related compounds into work and residential areas. Breathing these fumes can lead to lung irritation, headaches and nausea. They’ve also been linked to an increased risk of cancer, asthma and other chronic diseases from long-term exposure.
The researchers studied the effect of a small green wall containing a mixture of indoor plants on the air in a sealed chamber. When taking measurements, they found the small green wall had removed 97 percent of the most toxic compounds from the surrounding air in just eight hours.
The researchers say the study results far exceeded their expectations…
“This is the first time plants have been tested for their ability to remove petrol-related compounds, and the results are astounding,” says Fraser Torpy, an associate professor and bioremediation researcher at University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
Not only did the plants remove the majority of gas-related pollutants from the air in a matter of hours, they absorbed the most harmful compounds from the air efficiently. “For example, known carcinogen benzene is digested at a faster rate than less harmful substances, like alcohols,” Torpy says.
“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,” he adds.
Bringing plants into your home
If you’re considering adding houseplants to your home or workplace but feel overwhelmed about keeping them alive, start small. Go to a garden center and select one plant, and make sure you get instructions on how best to care for it. Once you’ve mastered that plant, then you’ll feel more comfortable bringing home others.
If you’re specifically looking for easy-to-care-for plants that remove toxins from the air, give the bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii) or Janet Craig (Dracaena fragrans “Janet Craig”) a try. Both of these plants do well in low-light conditions, so you don’t have to worry if your home doesn’t get a lot of sun.
Other plants that are good at removing air toxins include:
- Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
- English ivy (Hedera helix)*
- Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
- Marginata (Dracaena marginata)
- Mass cane/corn plant (Dracaena fragrans “Massangeana”)
- Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata laurentii)
- Pot mum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)*
- Peace lily (Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa”)*
*If you have pets, be sure to avoid plants that may be harmful to them, like those in the list above with asterisks. Here’s a more complete list to check.
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Plants remove cancer-causing toxins from air — University of Technology Sydney
The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality — United States Environmental Protection Agency
Janet Craig Dracaena: Low Light Workhorse Houseplant — Plant Care Today