Clean the Air with Indoor Plants
by Alex Cosper, Saturday, April 22, 2017

The best way to protect the air is to not pollute it in the first place, but luckily, Mother Nature has ways to help clean up poor air quality. As much as humans, fossil fuels, machines and corporations have damaged the environment, nature provides solutions for reversing this damage. Certain houseplants recommended by NASA can help clean the air such as aloe vera, which has multiple purposes including health benefits and a closer bond with nature. It's an excellent way to filter formaldehyde. Bamboo palm trees, which grow up to 12 feet, are even more effective at reducing formaldehyde, a toxic chemical.

Bamboo palm is a slow growing plant that can be found in Central and South America. It not only cleans air, but can also provide shade and has an eye-pleasing appearance. The plant needs to stay moist without too much water. It is temperature-sensitive and grows best between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime and no cooler than 60 degrees F at night, except in winter in which 65 degrees F can be the low temp.

During its growth phase, an occasional or monthly dose of diluted liquid fertilizer can help facilitate growth if the edges start to turn brown, which can result from salt build-up from over-fertilization. Rinsing the plant helps reduce these salts. You should regularly trim dead leaves.

The bamboo palm plant works as an air purifier by removing formaldehyde, trichlororoethylene (TCE) and benzene. These chemicals can be dangerous to human health if allowed to persist. The snake plant that can also clean the air and doesn't require much water or direct sunlight. It's extremely resilient against environmental problems. Other helpful houseplants include the peace lilly, Boston fern, ficus trees, spider plants and garden mum plants.

Why Industrial Chemicals are Harmful

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring chemical comprised of carbon and water. It was discovered in 1859 and subsequently became a manufactured chemical used to produce industrial resins for coatings. It has been used as a disinfectant because it kills bacteria and fungi. Another use has been the processing of color photography.

In 2011 the US National Toxicology Program identified the chemical as a known human carcinogen. Four years earlier it was banned in the European Union. It is clearly toxic and can harm animals. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2008 that formaldehyde found in travel trailers and manufactured homes had potentially hazardous levels of the substance. Some of the health problems include breathing problems, nosebleeds and chronic headaches.

Benzene is a petroleum product consisting of carbon and hydroden that naturally occurs in crude oil. It's a colorless flammable liquid that produces a sweet aroma. It is used in the production of gasoline and other chemicals, although most non-industrial applications have been discontinued since it is a human carcinogen.

Although it was discovered hundreds of years ago, benzene gained widespread use by chemists and manufacturers starting in the 19th century after it was isolated from coal tar. As industrial products began to proliferate, it was used for after shave due to its aroma and for the production of decaffeinated coffee.

As early as 1948 the American Petroleum Institute (API) identified benzene as unsafe and that even small amounts can adversely affect human health. The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) now considers it a human carcinogen. Long-term studies have linked benzene to leukemia and cancer.

The Struggle Between Science and Commercialism

TCE is a clear liquid with a sweet smell used as an industrial solvent. It's composed of carbon, hydrogren and chlorine. It was first mass produced in the 1920s for multiple purposes. It is used to produce pure ethanol and for extracting vegetable oils from soy, coconut and palm, along with extracting flavors from hops and spices. It's also used for the decaffeination of coffee. For many years through the 1970s it was combined with nitrous oxide as an anesthetic. Until the 1950s it was used as a dry cleaning solvent.

When TCE is inhaled it can work as an anesthestic, as it depresses the central nervous system. Too much exposure can damage nerves, the liver and kidney with effects similar to alcohol intoxication, producing headaches and dizziness. It's a potentially fatal substance in cases of over-exposure. The National Cancer Institute has found that it produces liver cancer in mice and kidney cancer in rats. Some studies suggest that it can cause heart damage in humans and is linked to Parkinson's Disease.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found in 1988 that the U.S. military and the semiconductor industry had leaked or dumped TCE into the ground in Mountain View, California. TCE had already been detected in drinking water as early as 1982. The chemical has been found in other areas where it is used for industrial purposes and has affected thousands of factory workers.

The Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration learned in the 1990s that RCA had been dumping toxic wastewater containing TCE into a well in Taoyuan City for over twenty years. An investigation found that the corporation employed over 1,000 workers who reported cancer leading to over 200 cancer deaths. TCE was once considered a safe substance by government regulators. Today government agencies consider TCE to be a probable carcinogen and that there is sufficient evidence it causes cancer.

While the industrial revolution led to many inventions that created convenience, it has also generate both outdoor and indoor pollution that is potentially harmful to humans. What confuses many people is that these pollutants are allowed to be manufactured and marketed to consumers on a wide scale in our society. Human life expectancy has increased since the 1900s, but mainly due to improvements in reducing the infant mortality rate, which affects the overall average. People of the 19th century and earlier actually did have a good chance of a long life if they made it past childhood.

Today people need to educate themselves more about environmental safety to reduce exposure to dangerous toxic chemicals. Eco-friendly solutions are rising in demand, so progress can be made when people care. Thankfully, nature helps with these solutions.

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