Plants May Mitigate VOC Threats

Dec. 21, 2016

Indoor air could be cleaner with the right plant species.

Certain plants could help mitigate the harmful effects of VOCs in indoor air, a new study suggests.

The use of plants to lower VOC concentrations in closed spaces isn’t new – NASA began studying the option in 1984, discovering that plants absorb the airborne VOCs with their leaves and roots – but a new approach involves comparing the rate at which multiple VOCs are simultaneously absorbed by a selection of five popular plants, rather than focusing on one type of VOC or individual plant species.

Vadoud Niri, a researcher at State University of New York at Oswego who led the study, built a sealed chamber containing specific concentrations of several common VOCs and monitored the levels over several hours with and without certain types of plants in the chamber. The research team then determined which VOCs the plant absorbed, how quickly the chemicals were removed from the air and the total amount of VOCs removed by the end of the experiment.

The team found that certain plants were better at absorbing specific compounds. For example, all five plants removed acetone from the air, but the dracaena plant absorbed roughly 94% of the airborne acetone in the chamber.

“Based on our results, we can recommend what plants are good for certain types of VOCs and for specific locations,” Niri explains. “The bromeliad plant was very good at removing six out of eight studied VOCs – it was able to take up more than 80% of each of those compounds over the 12-hour sampling period. It could be a good plant to have sitting around in the household or workplace.”

The research was presented to the American Chemical Society.

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