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Common Plants Cleanse Indoor Air of Toxic Petrol Vapours

An Ambius living green wall at the world headquarters of the AAR Corporation, a private provider of aviation services headquartered in Wood Dale, Illinois, a Chicago suburb near O’Hare International Airport. The 45’ x 20’ wall in the staff communal break area contains 4,300 plants that bring a breath of fresh air into the space. (Photo courtesy Ambius) Posted for media use
By Sunny Lewis for MaxImpact

SYDNEY, Australia, May 30, 2023 ( Sustainability News) – Ordinary indoor plants can efficiently remove toxic gasoline fumes from indoor air, even cancer-causing benzene compounds, new research conducted in Sydney has shown. 

University of Technology Sydney bioremediation researcher Associate Professor Fraser Torpy partnered with international plantscaping solutions company Ambius for the study, and the results have got the researchers from both organizations excited about the ability of indoor plants to remove petrol vapors from indoor air.

Previous studies on indoor plants have shown they can remove a broad range of indoor air contaminants, but this is the first study of the ability of plants to clean up gasoline vapors – one of the largest sources of toxic compounds in buildings worldwide.

Offices and residential apartment buildings often connect directly to parking garages, either by doors or elevator shafts, allowing harmful petrol related compounds to penetrate work and residential areas. Many buildings are also exposed to the fumes from nearby roads and highways.

Ambius is headquartered in the small city of Wyomissing in southeastern Pennsylvania, with more than 36 service centers throughout North America, 

During the testing for this study, the Ambius small green wall of plants proved to be especially effective at the removal of alkanes, benzene compounds and cyclopentane compounds. These are some of the most dangerous components of petrol vapour, and in the case of benzene derivatives, the major cause of health issues related to volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Ambius General Manager Johan Hodgson said the research offers new evidence of the critical role played by indoor plants and green walls in cleaning the air we breathe quickly and sustainably.

“We know that indoor air quality is often significantly more polluted than outdoor air, which in turn impacts mental and physical health. But the great news is this study has shown that something as simple as having plants indoors can make a huge difference,” Hodgson said.

The researchers found that the Ambius small green wall, containing a mix of indoor plants, removed 97 percent of the most toxic compounds from the surrounding air in just eight hours.

What to Plant for Cleaner Air

Ambius small green walls use some common indoor plants often seen in offices and homes, such as:

Aglaonema – native to tropical and subtropical regions of Asia and New Guinea, they are known commonly as Chinese evergreens. 
Epipremnum – these flowering plants are found in tropical forests from China, the Himalayas, and Southeast Asia to Australia the western Pacific. 
Dracaena – a genus of about 120 species of trees and succulent shrubs, such as Lemon Surprise, Dorado, Green Jewel and Jade Jewel 
Spathiphyllum – sometimes just called “spats,” or by the graceful common name “peace lily,” these are easy care, low light houseplants known to removes many toxins from indoor air such as formaldehyde and ammonia.
Syngonium – These woody vines are native to tropical rainforests in southern Mexico, the West Indies, Central and South America. Dwarf varieties grow well indoors, they can grow to heights of  20 meters or more in trees. 
Ferns – a number of varieties work well in green walls 

For a guide to indoor plants, Ambius offers detailed information here.

Professor Torpy, who is part of the UTS Plants and Environmental Quality Research Group, said that based on measurements from a sealed chamber, the study results had far exceeded their expectations when it came to removing petrol pollutants from the air.

Scientist working with University of Technology Sydney bioremediation researcher Associate Professor Fraser Torpy tests indoor plants for their toxin-removing capabilities. 2022 (Photo courtesy University of Technology Sydney) Posted for media use

“This is the first time plants have been tested for their ability to remove gasoline-related compounds, and the results are astounding,” Torpy said.

“Not only can plants remove the majority of pollutants from the air in a matter of hours, they remove the most harmful gasoline-related pollutants from the air most efficiently. For example, known carcinogen benzene is digested at a faster rate than less harmful substances, like alcohols,” he said.

“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,” Torpy said.

Poor indoor air quality is responsible for 6.7 million premature deaths globally every year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports. Health experts say exposure to petrol fumes is linked to lung irritation, headaches, nausea, asthma and increased risk of cancers. 

Many people spend at least 90 percent of their time indoors – either at home, at school or in the workplace, so improving indoor air quality is critical to their health.

Hodgson said the findings from the UTS study confirmed feedback Ambius had received after installing plants in hundreds of office buildings across North America.

“At Ambius, we see over and over again the effects plants have in improving health, wellbeing, productivity and office attendance for the thousands of businesses we work with,” Hodgson said. “This new research proves that plants should not just be seen as nice to have, but rather a crucial part of every workplace wellness plan.”

Indoor Plants Can Prevent Sick Building Syndrome

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines Sick Building Syndrome as “situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.”

Complaints of those affected by poor office conditions include headaches, itchiness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and throat irritation, none of which make for a successful workday. The symptoms often cease upon leaving the building. 

Studies done by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health show that Sick Building Syndrome can be caused by:

  • Inadequate ventilation (52% of cases): This is often an HVAC issue, as the system fails to distribute air properly throughout the building.
  • Chemical toxins originating from indoors (16% of cases): Indoor sources are actually to blame for a large majority of the air pollution in a building. Adhesives, manufactured wood, and even emissions from equipment such as copy machines can contain dangerous toxins including formaldehyde.
  • Chemical toxins originating from outdoors (10% of cases): Outdoor toxins include anything from automobile exhaust to plumbing vents. If your office’s intake vents are improperly positioned, they could be taking in this pollution from the outdoors and mixing it in with the air you breathe.
  • Biological pollutants (5%): Biological pollutants are bacteria, mold, and viruses. These toxins can breed in collections of stagnant water in insulation and ducts or underneath tiles.

A green wall in the building helps combat all of these toxins in the air, creating a much healthier work or living space.

Ambius funded the research at University of Technology Sydney, and for Hodgson, the bottom line is green – leafy green. He says, “The bottom line is that the best, most cost effective and most sustainable way to combat harmful indoor air contaminants in your workplace and home is to introduce plants.”

Read the report.