In recent years, the “Locavore” and organic food movements have both popularized and deepened the dialogues concerning human/environmental health, responsible consumption, and sustainable production. The focus of these conversations has mostly surrounded our food systems, which while both admirable and necessary, has neglected a key component of human health: Air Quality.
This EPA conducted study found that, on average, Americans spend 93% of their lives indoors or in vehicles. This presents a significant threat to human health via air-borne pollutants as enclosed spaces generally have 2–5 times higher concentrations of pollutants. These pollutants are made of particulates (pollen, dust, air-borne bacteria and viruses, soot, and vehicle exhaust), VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds, which are highly resistant to modern air purifying appliances), and gaseous air pollutants (ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and carbon).
These pollutants come from industrial and residential sources alike, from the burning of fossil fuels or off-gassing of construction materials, furniture, and cleaners. In the best case scenario, these pollutants cause a loss in productivity; in the worst case scenario, they can significantly impact respiratory function or cause cancer from chronic exposure. For most people, avoidance or escape from these pollutants is impossible given that they are a by-product of human activity. Even with many modern commercial HVAC systems incorporating activated carbon filtration, this filtration is often run intermittently given the high costs of maintaining these systems. However, given the amount of time we spend indoors in controlled environments, we can use indoor plantings and gardens to mitigate and reduce these risks further.
Snake Plant is commonly grown indoors due to its affinity for these environments (Mokkie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
Both indoor plants and the microbes found within their media have been proven to reduce concentrations of all classes of indoor pollutants. This study, conducted by NASA, focused on plants that have been historically grown for their compatibility with indoor environments, found that significant reduction in VOC’s such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene, were measured when plants were introduced into a sealed, polluted environment. Indoor plantings have also been shown to reduce stress and carbon dioxide levels, and while not immediately hazardous, these factors can cause a significant loss of human productivity.
Given the daily realities of our lives and scientific evidence, indoor plant gardening for air quality is not only an effective way to keep our personal living and working space clear of pollutants, but is also a strong investment in personal health and happiness. So what are you waiting for? Get started today!