The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that indoor pollution and/or contaminant levels may be two to five times (and potentially up to one hundred times) greater than outdoor levels. Potential threats to indoor environmental quality include the presence of hazardous chemicals, high concentrations of airborne fibers, and smoke, mildew, mold and/or fungus contamination.
VOCs are emitted from a wide range of consumer and commercially focused products. Such products include paints, carpets, furniture, pesticides, cleaning supplies, adhesives, sealants and coatings, copy paper and common office equipment, such as copiers and printers.
VOCs are released as gases from these products and may or may not always be noticeable, but they’re there nonetheless. Indeed, that “new car smell” many people refer to is actually comprised of VOCs being emitted from the various new components, adhesives, paints, etc. in your car. VOCs include a variety of chemicals such as benzene, xylene, heptane, octane and others that may be hazardous to human health, especially indoors where large concentrations of VOCs may be present.
LEED and Indoor Air Quality
LEED’s Indoor Environmental Quality category is entirely focused on indoor air quality and human productivity. LEED addresses indoor air quality in a variety of ways from encouraging new buildings to use low or no VOC materials and compliance with ASHRAE 62.1, to fresh air circulation and indoor air flushing. But there are simpler, less mechanical (and more beautiful) solutions for improving the quality of the oxygen we breathe and the productivity of the environment we work and live in.
Plants that Remove Volatile organic compounds
Plants are important elements of the human world. Indoor plants convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, essentially scrubbing the air we breathe while removing dangerous toxins.
A study by the University of Georgia published in HortScience conducted tests of ornamental plants’ ability to remove harmful VOCs from indoor air, a process called phytoremediation. The effect of these plants on removing VOCs not only improved air quality, but also human psychological health.
According to the study, which tested twenty eight (28) different species of indoor plant, five (5) plants came out on top in terms of their ability to remove VOCs:
Purple Waffle Plant (Hemigraphis alternata)
English Ivy (Hedera helix)
Variegated Wax Plant (Hoya carnosa)
Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus)
Purple Heart Plant (Tradescantia pallida)
All of the aforementioned plants were were rated as superior in their ability to remove VOCs as well as provide incremental health benefits to building occupants.