By Dr. Mercola
Did you know that some air pollutants are 100 times more concentrated in your home than they are outside? You are dependent on quality air to support your respiratory system and your overall health.
Unfortunately, several sociological studies demonstrate the average amount of time a person living in the U.S. spends indoors is close to 92 percent of their day. The data indicates people who are employed spend 2 percent of their time outside and 6 percent in transit between home and work.1
This means the quality of the indoor air you breathe is very important to your long-term health. According the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), poor indoor air quality is one of the top public health risks you face each day.2
Poor quality air has been linked to a number of different health effects that may be experienced immediately or several years later. Understanding and controlling the indoor air pollution you are exposed to by making small changes to your living space may help reduce your health risks.
Your Indoor Air Quality May Be 100 Times Worse Than Outside
You may think of outdoor air as being polluted and your indoor air as clean because you don't detect chemical smells or notice smog in the air at home or in the office. As it turns out, the air in your home may be more dangerous to your health than the air outdoors.
According to the EPA, the levels of indoor air pollution in your home may be between two and five times higher than they are outside. Some of the different pollutants you breathe can even be as much as 100 times more concentrated inside.3
Many newer homes and buildings are also built with an eye toward reducing utility costs. This requires the building or home owner to purposefully ventilate the building for air exchange. Although these buildings lower utility costs, they increase your risk of health conditions when not ventilated.
Both the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have established that 80 percent of all cancers may be attributed to factors from your environment.4
Rather than genetic factors being responsible for the majority of cancers, exposure to carcinogenic chemicals and toxins are among the causative factors.
This was proposed as far back as 1977, when four scientists explained evidence from their data indicating 80 percent of all cancers were triggered by environmental factors.5 Their studies included data relating to variations in geography, changes to risk over time, migrants, correlations studies and case reports.
What Is in the Air You Breathe?
The source of indoor pollution is a combination of interactions between the building, the occupants, climate, construction, furnishings and contaminated sources.6 Pollution generated by occupants is related to tobacco smoke and the products you may bring into your home, such as air fresheners and cleaning supplies.
There are a number of different contributors to the rise in poor air quality in your home or office. Although volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is listed as one contributor, there are hundreds of different products you may find in your home that emit VOCs. The variety of contributors to indoor pollution include:7
✓ Bacteria and viruses
✓ Building and paint products
✓ Carbon monoxide
✓ Cleaning supplies and household chemicals
✓ Dust mites and dust
✓ Pet dander
✓ Secondhand smoke
VOCs are a specific and rather dangerous type of pollution emitted from products such as aerosol sprays, cleaning supplies, wood preservatives, hobby supplies and pressed wood products. Some of the more familiar names are benzene, formaldehyde and toluene.
Most of the health studies have focused on exposure to one VOC, so less is known about the effects on your health when these chemicals are found in combination.8 Although the toxicity levels for each of the separate VOCs has been determined, there are no real safe levels, and in combination those toxic levels may be lower.
How Indoor Air Pollution Impacts Your Health
Indoor air pollution can result in both short-term and long-term effects on your health. Children are especially vulnerable to chemicals and pollutants, both in their home and their school.9 Stay watchful for symptoms of air pollution in your children and get involved in your school district to improve the quality of their air.10
Short-term symptoms of exposure to indoor air pollution resemble symptoms you experience from an allergy or a cold. They include:11
✓ Worsening asthma
✓ Itchy watery eyes
✓ Scratchy throat
✓ Runny nose
While these symptoms usually disappear within a couple hours after no longer being exposed to the pollutant, long-term health conditions don't simply resolve by removing yourself from the polluted environment. These health conditions include:12,13
- Bronchitis, asthma and emphysema
- Accelerated aging of lung tissue and lung cancer
- High blood pressure,14 heart attack15 and stroke
- Shortened lifespan
- Decreased cognitive function16
Houseplants Improve Your Home Environment
Houseplants are very functional decorations for your home and office that brighten your space, improve your mood and clean your air.
Several studies have found potted plants improve your work and living space by reducing your blood pressure, improving your attention and productivity, lowering your anxiety levels and raising your job satisfaction.17
Other research has demonstrated that doing tasks around plants has led to a higher degree of accuracy and better results in the task performed.18 Memory retention and concentration also improved in this study. The researchers found that exposure to plants improved memory performance by 20 percent.
Research has also demonstrated that indoor plants kept close to an individual's space at work had a statistically significant effect on how many sick days they took and their level of productivity.19 These associations may have practical significance when applied to a large number of workers over time.
Plants may also be used for phytoremediation, or the mitigation of pollution in air, soil and water. Scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), University of Georgia and Pennsylvania State University have demonstrated that potted plants in your home can improve your air quality.20
Plants remove pollutants by absorbing them through their leaves and roots, in much the same way they clean the outdoor air from the pollution given off by manufacturing plants, cars and heating systems.
Plants You May Use to Decorate and Improve Your Air Quality
Most leafy plants are adept at removing some pollution from your indoor air. However, scientists have also discovered there are several that are better at removing VOCs from your home and workplace. NASA was behind some of the initial research in 1989 to determine specific plants that might be useful to reduce pollution in sealed environments.21
Researchers have continued to investigate the abilities of different plants to clean your indoor air of pollution. More recent research has identified these 12 houseplants as those that are most beneficial, and the specific VOCs they are adept at removing.22,23 The results from this study are on the agenda of a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
✓ Jade Plant
Particularly good at absorbing toluene emitted from gasoline, paint, kerosene and lacquers. These plants flourish in medium light, single pot and room temperature. Allow the soil to dry between watering; brown leaves indicate they need more water.24
✓ Spider Plant
These plants can absorb up to 90 percent of formaldehyde and carbon monoxide from tobacco smoke and O-xylene from fuels and P-xylene found in plastics. (This plant is also called the airplane plant.) It is resilient and survives well even if you don't have a green thumb. The plant is safe for your pets and easy to grow.25
✓ Scarlet Start
In the family of Bromeliads, as is the pineapple, this plant easily purifies the air of 90 percent of benzenes emitted from glues, furniture wax, detergent and paint. These plants are easy to grow indoors and have very few problems with pests. They withstand drought well, but never overwater them.26
✓ Caribbean Tree Cactus
These lovely cactus plants can absorb up to 80 percent of the ethylbenzene in the space they are kept. This chemical is emitted from electronic products, construction material, garden care products, toys and furniture.
Most cactus plants will do well in pots with the right amount of food, light and water. Although they withstand the drought well, they do require more water indoors than they do in the ground.27
These beautiful variegated leaf plants absorb 90 percent of the acetone from household cleaners and nail polish remover.
These leafy plants require a lot of water and provide humidity for your home.
✓ Peace Lily
These plants come in either a solid color or variegated leaf variety. They bloom in the spring and don't require much light. Keep them close at hand in your office as they absorb electromagnetic radiation from your digital devices and humidify the air.
✓ English Ivy
Easy to grow and care for, they are excellent at absorbing the toxins from cigarette smoke and cleansing the air for people suffering from asthma.
Slightly more difficult to care for, the Ficus cleanses odors from the air and reduces toxic substances from your home and office. There are several varieties of the plant.
✓ Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law's Tongue
This plant is easy to care for and grows well. It removes benzene and formaldehyde and increases the oxygen supply in the room at night.
These are favorite plants as they are easily grown and look great in hanging pots. They efficiently detoxify formaldehyde but are toxic to cats and dogs.
✓ Bamboo Palm
Also known as the Reed Palm, this plant thrives indoors and readily absorbs formaldehyde outgassing from furniture. If you've purchased a new chair or couch you may want to decorate with a couple of these plants.28