Houseplants for cleaner indoor air

Photo: istockphoto.com/Arpad Nagy-Bagoly
Winter is approaching and we will be spending more time indoors. Choose your houseplants carefully and you can improve air quality. Good for Nasa,good for us According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air is often more polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest, dirtiest cities. And the bad news gets worse: most of us spend about 90 percent of our time indoors. During the 1973 Skylab III mission, NASA identified 107 volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) emitting (off gassing) from synthetic materials inside the spacecraft. They started researching various solutions and found that certain plants improved air quality by producing oxygen while removing carbon dioxide and other pollutants. They can't cure all indoor pollution but they can offer an antidote for minor contamination and help lower the risk of asthma, allergies and "sick building syndrome." Lead Nasa scientists, Dr. Wolverton recommends at least one potted plant per 100 square feet, placed within 1.83 to 2.44 meters (six to eight feet) of your work, sleep, or leisure space in order to see results. Pollutant: Benzene Sources: inks, oils, paints, plastics, rubber, dyes, detergents, gasoline, tobacco smoke and synthetic fibers. Plants: Chrysanthemum, Dracaena, Massangeana, Janet Craig, Marginata, Warneckei, English Ivy, Gerbera daisy, Peace lily, Spathiphyllum, and Golden Pothos. Pollutant: Formaldehyde Sources: foam insulation, plywood, grocery bags, waxed paper, fire retardants, carpeting, cigarette smoke and natural gas. Plants: Azalea, Bamboo palm, Chrysanthemum, Corn plant, Devil's Ivy, Ficus trees, Golden pothos, Mother-in-Law's Tongue, Philodendron, Snake plant, Spider plant, Boston fern, Gerbera daisy and Dwarf date palm. Pollutant: Trichloroethylene Sources: printing inks, lacquers, varnishes, adhesives, typewriter correction fluids, paint strippers, spot removers and rug-cleaning fluids. Plants: Chrysanthemum, Dracaena, Marginata, Warneckei, Gerbera daisy, Peace Lily. Pollutant: Toluene/Xylene Sources: gasoline, adhesives, ceiling tiles, computer screens, paints, inks used in photocopiers, stains and varnishes, and upholstery among other common household products and materials. Plants: Areca palm, the Moth orchid and Dwarf date palm. Pollutant: Carbon monoxide Sources: Gas space heaters, leaking chimneys and furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces, gas stoves, gas powered generators, auto, truck, or bus exhaust from attached garages. Plants: Philodendron, Spider plant, Golden Pothos, Gerbera daisy and Chrysanthemum (mum), Peace lily, English ivy, Chinese evergreen, Bamboo palm, Snake plant (mother-in-law's tongue), Dracaena, (marginata) Corn plant, and Janet Craig. If you have small children or pets, check with your local garden center to choose plants that are non toxic or contact your local poison-control center for guidance. Shelagh McNally is a environmental journalist based in Montreal.