Tag Archives: How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

University of Washington study: New houseplant can clean your home’s air

1 Jan

Elizabeth Palermo wrote in the Live Science article, Do Indoor Plants Really Clean the Air?

Sure, that potted fern is pretty, but can it really spruce up the air quality in your home? Studies by scientists at NASA, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Georgia and other respected institutions suggest that it can.
Plants are notoriously adept at absorbing gases through pores on the surface of their leaves. It’s this skill that facilitates photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light energy and carbon dioxide into chemical energy to fuel growth.
But scientists studying the air-purification capacities of indoor plants have found that plants can absorb many other gases in addition to carbon dioxide, including a long list of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Benzene (found in some plastics, fabrics, pesticides and cigarette smoke) and formaldehyde (found in some cosmetics, dish detergent, fabric softener and carpet cleaner) are examples of common indoor VOCs that plants help eliminate…. https://www.livescience.com/38445-indoor-plants-clean-air.html

Research from the University of Washington supports Palermo’s article.

Science Daily reported in New houseplant can clean your home’s air:

We like to keep the air in our homes as clean as possible, and sometimes we use HEPA air filters to keep offending allergens and dust particles at bay.
But some hazardous compounds are too small to be trapped in these filters. Small molecules like chloroform, which is present in small amounts in chlorinated water, or benzene, which is a component of gasoline, build up in our homes when we shower or boil water, or when we store cars or lawn mowers in attached garages. Both benzene and chloroform exposure have been linked to cancer.
Now researchers at the University of Washington have genetically modified a common houseplant — pothos ivy — to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it. The modified plants express a protein, called 2E1, that transforms these compounds into molecules that the plants can then use to support their own growth. The team will publish its findings Wednesday, Dec. 19 in Environmental Science & Technology….
The team decided to use a protein called cytochrome P450 2E1, or 2E1 for short, which is present in all mammals, including humans. In our bodies, 2E1 turns benzene into a chemical called phenol and chloroform into carbon dioxide and chloride ions. But 2E1 is located in our livers and is turned on when we drink alcohol. So it’s not available to help us process pollutants in our air….
The researchers made a synthetic version of the gene that serves as instructions for making the rabbit form of 2E1. Then they introduced it into pothos ivy so that each cell in the plant expressed the protein. Pothos ivy doesn’t flower in temperate climates so the genetically modified plants won’t be able to spread via pollen.
“This whole process took more than two years,” said lead author Long Zhang, who is a research scientist in the civil and environmental engineering department. “That is a long time, compared to other lab plants, which might only take a few months. But we wanted to do this in pothos because it’s a robust houseplant that grows well under all sort of conditions.”
The researchers then tested how well their modified plants could remove the pollutants from air compared to normal pothos ivy. They put both types of plants in glass tubes and then added either benzene or chloroform gas into each tube. Over 11 days, the team tracked how the concentration of each pollutant changed in each tube.
For the unmodified plants, the concentration of either gas didn’t change over time. But for the modified plants, the concentration of chloroform dropped by 82 percent after three days, and it was almost undetectable by day six. The concentration of benzene also decreased in the modified plant vials, but more slowly: By day eight, the benzene concentration had dropped by about 75 percent…. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181219093911.htm

Citation:

New houseplant can clean your home’s air
Date: December 19, 2018
Source: University of Washington
Summary:
Researchers have genetically modified a common houseplant to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it.
Journal Reference:
Long Zhang, Ryan Routsong, Stuart E. Strand. Greatly Enhanced Removal of Volatile Organic Carcinogens by a Genetically Modified Houseplant, Pothos Ivy (Epipremnum aureum) Expressing the Mammalian Cytochrome P450 2e1 Gene. Environmental Science & Technology, 2018; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b04811

Here is the press release from the University of Washington:

December 19, 2018
Researchers develop a new houseplant that can clean your home’s air
Sarah McQuate
UW News
We like to keep the air in our homes as clean as possible, and sometimes we use HEPA air filters to keep offending allergens and dust particles at bay.
But some hazardous compounds are too small to be trapped in these filters. Small molecules like chloroform, which is present in small amounts in chlorinated water, or benzene, which is a component of gasoline, build up in our homes when we shower or boil water, or when we store cars or lawn mowers in attached garages. Both benzene and chloroform exposure have been linked to cancer.
Now researchers at the University of Washington have genetically modified a common houseplant — pothos ivy — to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it. The modified plants express a protein, called 2E1, that transforms these compounds into molecules that the plants can then use to support their own growth. The team published its findings Dec. 19 in Environmental Science & Technology.
“People haven’t really been talking about these hazardous organic compounds in homes, and I think that’s because we couldn’t do anything about them,” said senior author Stuart Strand, who is a research professor in the UW’s civil and environmental engineering department. “Now we’ve engineered houseplants to remove these pollutants for us.”
The team decided to use a protein called cytochrome P450 2E1, or 2E1 for short, which is present in all mammals, including humans. In our bodies, 2E1 turns benzene into a chemical called phenol and chloroform into carbon dioxide and chloride ions. But 2E1 is located in our livers and is turned on when we drink alcohol. So it’s not available to help us process pollutants in our air.
“We decided we should have this reaction occur outside of the body in a plant, an example of the ‘green liver’ concept,” Strand said. “And 2E1 can be beneficial for the plant, too. Plants use carbon dioxide and chloride ions to make their food, and they use phenol to help make components of their cell walls.”
The researchers made a synthetic version of the gene that serves as instructions for making the rabbit form of 2E1. Then they introduced it into pothos ivy so that each cell in the plant expressed the protein. Pothos ivy doesn’t flower in temperate climates so the genetically modified plants won’t be able to spread via pollen.
“This whole process took more than two years,” said lead author Long Zhang, who is a research scientist in the civil and environmental engineering department. “That is a long time, compared to other lab plants, which might only take a few months. But we wanted to do this in pothos because it’s a robust houseplant that grows well under all sort of conditions.”
The researchers then tested how well their modified plants could remove the pollutants from air compared to normal pothos ivy. They put both types of plants in glass tubes and then added either benzene or chloroform gas into each tube. Over 11 days, the team tracked how the concentration of each pollutant changed in each tube.
For the unmodified plants, the concentration of either gas didn’t change over time. But for the modified plants, the concentration of chloroform dropped by 82 percent after three days, and it was almost undetectable by day six. The concentration of benzene also decreased in the modified plant vials, but more slowly: By day eight, the benzene concentration had dropped by about 75 percent.
In order to detect these changes in pollutant levels, the researchers used much higher pollutant concentrations than are typically found in homes. But the team expects that the home levels would drop similarly, if not faster, over the same time frame.
Plants in the home would also need to be inside an enclosure with something to move air past their leaves, like a fan, Strand said.
“If you had a plant growing in the corner of a room, it will have some effect in that room,” he said. “But without air flow, it will take a long time for a molecule on the other end of the house to reach the plant.”
The team is currently working to increase the plants’ capabilities by adding a protein that can break down another hazardous molecule found in home air: formaldehyde, which is present in some wood products, such as laminate flooring and cabinets, and tobacco smoke.
“These are all stable compounds, so it’s really hard to get rid of them,” Strand said. “Without proteins to break down these molecules, we’d have to use high-energy processes to do it. It’s so much simpler and more sustainable to put these proteins all together in a houseplant.”
Civil and environmental engineering research technician Ryan Routsong is also a co-author. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Amazon Catalyst at UW and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
###
For more information, contact Strand at sstrand@uw.edu or 206-543-5350.

Joan Clark lists 17 plants that clean indoor air.

Clark wrote in 17 plants that clean indoor air:

Many people think that air pollution only consists of smog or car emissions. While these do constitute as outdoor air pollution, there is a much more dangerous kind of air pollution known as indoor air pollution.
Indoor air pollution is more hazardous than outdoor air pollution because it is a more concentrated type of pollution that is caused by inadequate ventilation, toxic products, humidity, and high temperatures. Thankfully, numerous plants clean the air.
• Aloe Vera
• Warneck Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis warneckii)
• Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
• Golden Pothos (Scindapsus aureus)
• Chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium)
• Red-edged Dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
• Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
• Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema Crispum)
• Azalea (Rhododendron simsii)
• English Ivy (Hedera helix)
• Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
• Heart Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium)
• Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
• Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
• Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
• Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
• Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) https://www.tipsbulletin.com/plants-that-clean-the-air/

Consumer Reports noted that indoor air can be polluted.

Mary H.J. Farrell wrote in the Consumer Reports article, How to Improve Indoor Air Quality: The air in your house can be five times more polluted than the air outside:

Your windows may be spotless and your floors may sparkle, but for millions of adults and children with allergies, asthma, and other respiratory conditions, a house is only as clean as its air.
Though it might be hard to believe, ¬indoor air can be five times dirtier than what we breathe outside, exposing us to carcinogens, including radon and formaldehyde, as well as quotidian lung-gunking impurities, such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and a variety of particulate matter created when we burn candles or cook…. https://www.consumerreports.org/indoor-air-quality/how-to-improve-indoor-air-quality/

Using plants to clean indoor air pollution is part of a strategy to reduce indoor pollutants.

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