University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Associate Professor Fraser Torpy led this work in collaboration with Ambius, a leading landscape architecture firm.
The researchers found that Ambius’ little green wall, which contained a variety of houseplants, was very successful at removing dangerous, carcinogenic pollutants, removing 97% of the most toxic pollutants from the surrounding air in just eight hours.
Poor indoor air quality is responsible for 6.7 million premature deaths worldwide, and with most people spending 90% of their time indoors at home, school or work, developing innovative air quality techniques is vital.
According to Johan Hodgson, general manager of Ambius, the research has provided new insights into the vital function of indoor plants and green walls in purifying the air we breathe quickly and sustainably.
Mr Hodgson said: “We know that indoor air quality is often significantly worse than outdoor air quality, impacting both mental and physical health. But the good news is that this research has shown that something as simple as planting indoors can make a huge difference.”
Previous research on indoor plants has shown that they can remove a wide range of indoor air contaminants. However, this is the first study to look at the potential of plants to clean up gasoline fumes, one of the most common sources of hazardous substances in buildings worldwide.
Offices and residential apartments often connect directly to parking spaces through doors or elevator shafts, making it impossible to prevent toxic gasoline-related substances from seeping into work and living spaces. Many structures are also vulnerable to gasoline fumes emitted from surrounding roads and highways.
Inhaling gasoline fumes can cause lung irritation, headaches and nausea, and long-term exposure has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, asthma and other chronic diseases, all of which contribute to a lower life expectancy.
When it comes to removing fuel contaminants from the air, Associate Professor Torpy said the study results, based on measurements in a confined space, significantly exceeded their expectations.
The essential information in this book is that plants have been tested for their ability to remove gasoline vapors from the air within hours and remove most pollutants from the air.
Plants were first examined for their ability to eliminate gasoline-related chemicals, and the findings were astonishing.
Researchers said, “Not only can plants remove most pollutants from the air within hours, but they also remove the most dangerous gasoline-related pollutants from the air in the most efficient way; the well-known carcinogenic substance benzene, for example, is digested more quickly than less harmful substances, such as alcohols.”
Associate Professor Torpy said: “We also found that the more concentrated the toxins are in the air, the faster and more effective the plants became at removing the toxins, showing that plants adapt to the conditions in which they grow.”
The findings confirmed the feedback they had received after placing plants in hundreds of office buildings across the country.
This study shows that plants should not be viewed as a “nice to have”, but as an essential part of any workplace wellness plan.
Mr Hodgson said: “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.”