The Key to Healthy Air? Plants

I doubt there were very many people surprised by this, but a New Dehli, India business complex, Paharpur Business Center and Software Technology Incubator Park, published an interesting report at last week’s TED Conferece.

We have tried and tested these plants for 15 years at Paharpur Business Centre and Software Technology Incubator Park (PBC™ - STIP) in New Delhi, India. It is a 20 year old, 50,000 ft2 building, with over 1,200 plants for 300 building occupants.

PBC™ - STIP is rated the healthiest building in Delhi by the Government of India.* Their study found that there is a 42% probability of increasing blood oxygen by 1% if one is inside the building for 10 hours.

Also, compared to other buildings in Delhi, the incidence of eye irritation reduced by 52%, lower respiratory symptoms by 34%, headaches by 24%, upper respiratory symptoms by 20%, lung impairment by 10-12% and Asthma by 9%. As a result of fewer sick days — employee productivity also increased.

Certainly everyone knows that plants scrub CO2 from the air, and replace it with fresh oxygen, but I was ecstatic to read that some plants, like the Money Plant can scrub chemicals like formaldehyde, xylene or benzene as well. Since my wife and I are already trying to stop using chemical cleaners, due in part to the EPA’s assertion that indoor air is often more polluted than outdoor air, this one little extra step is easy, and pretty amazing.

Of course, not everyone has a green thumb. I am a notorious plant killer, so my Wife does almost all the plant care in our house. Actually for a while, I had a plant at work which ideally was helping with this indoor air quality issue. Of course, I neglected watering it for a while (and it was in nutrient poor soil, another thing I knew and neglected), so it is now a pitiful brown twig. I should do something about that. The nice thing about the plants that the PBC - STIP uses is that they really are low-maintenance plants, even with my poor plant skills, with a few gentle reminders, I could probably keep them alive for the extent of their natural lifespans.

This study was really interesting, particularly in a day and age where so many people have forgotten how to take advantage of the natural world. A world where the natural is almost despised for being somehow unsanitary. When really, the world we’ve created for ourselves often has done far more harm than good to us.

I’m not trying to be a Tree-Hugger here. I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t utilize technology, but I think too many of us have a blind faith in all sorts of technology, and never question that the technology we’re presented with. From a business perspective, this is entirely foolish. As a society we allows want the cheapest product, while business is trying to maximize profits. A lot of products are developed for the market with the deepest concern for maximizing profit. In that pursuit, other issues, like health concerns are often overlooked. In some ways, this is hard to blame on the companies. It is somewhat unreasonable for a company to test their product in conjunction with every other product and/or medication on the market. But, since we don’t really need cleaning chemicals outside of Baking Soda, Washing Soda, Oxygen Bleach, Water and Vinegar it’s pretty easy to avoid those problems.

As an aside, this issue of the natural world affecting our health had an interesting development last week in the New York Times. Per Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids:

Otherwise, healthy children and germs and dirt have had a long and happy relationship since the beginning of time. Ms. Brody even says that that may be why babies put everything in their mouths. Not to feel it or taste it. To get a great big mouthful of germs. (And worms.)

Not only do we need the natural world to keep us healthy, but we need to the natural world to make us sick as well (at least when we’re young). And I’ve experienced this one first hand.

When I was younger, I never had a problem with pine pollen, but then I spent a reasonable amount of time outside in the spring and summer, when the pollen tends to be thick. As I got older, I spent more time inside vegging out watching TV, or playing on my computer (and my health during that time is indicative of that, it still is). In the summer of 2002, I got a job working for Spokane County Parks and Recreation (I was employed with them through a temp agency). I worked five days a week out at Liberty Lake County Park doing basic park maintenance. That summer, I started having severe problems with pollen. To the point that it would lead to sneezing fits that caused my head to explode in pain. Since then, I’ve had to start using allergy pills during the summer.

Of course, I’d had issues before that, but it was then that made it clear how bad the problem had become. Had I not spent the majority of my teens indoors instead of out, I might not have that problem today. I can’t say for sure either way, but it seems like a reasonable argument considering the study detailed in the NY Times. It seems to me that we’ve clearly forgotten a huge amount of what it means to live well not only for ourselves, but ultimately for the planet as well. Hopefully, with all the doom and gloom surrounding the question of the environment today, will convince more people to take this sort of thing seriously.