20 Apr 2010

How many of us stop to think about what’s in the air we are breathing? Given the fact that we involuntarily take in as many as 20,000 life sustaining breaths in a typical day, it stands to reason that the quality of each inhale should be a thing of upmost importance.

So what is air? From the outset, it’s simply a mixture of gases we can’t see; oxygen (21%), Nitrogen (78%), with the remaining 1% made up of water vapor, argon, small amounts of carbon dioxide, and traces of other gases. Air is the stuff of life, ingeniously produced naturally by plants as a gift for all living things from our mother Earth. Air on its own accord is a perfect substance, but the air we breathe is anything but that due to the elements that make up our indoor environments.

In today’s world, just about every inside setting has man-made materials that emit harmful substances into the air we end up breathing. The culprits are commonplace starting with the obvious like building materials, the structural components and fabrics included in many typical household furnishing, paint and wall covering, nearly every type of flooring (carpet is a notorious contributor), and not surprisingly, numerous other accessories that make up a home. Because we are so often exposed to a wide rage of air borne toxins, most of us don’t even realize it’s among us with no accounting for the silent damage it is causing.

The resulting effects of these impurities are common maladies that can be directly associated with one’s environment, including an assortment of allergies, asthma and other lung related ailments, irritations and of the eyes, nose, and throat, unexplained fatigue, headaches, chronic congestion, among others.

Because many toxins have become so commonplace in our homes, it is easy to think there is nothing much to worry about. In truth, the effects of these indoor emissions are anything but benign. Symptoms brought about by synthetic contaminants may not show immediate acute reactions but extended exposure can lead to, among other things, a health calamity called “multiple chemical sensitivity” (MCS). This is a condition of hypersensitivity that leads to a state of increased allergic reaction to a wider variety of ordinarily common substances like dust, dust mites, mold spores, pollen, and even some types of food. Things that would normally have no effect on someone suddenly become dangerously intrusive.

Although indoor pollution spares no one, the most susceptible are children, and infants. Statistics point out that as many as 90% of asthma cases involving children can be attributed to indoors allergens. There is even indication that sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) may be connected to indoor pollutants as infants are sensitized to synthetic chemicals while in the womb, well before birth. It is the dynamic growth state of fetuses that make them more vulnerable to the effects of the volatile organic chemicals (VOC) released into the air by synthetic materials. The exposure to VOC’s is only enhanced when newborns come home from the hospital, welcomed to a newly decorated nursery complete with fresh paint, a new carpet or reconditioned flooring , a new crib and mattress, new bedding, wall art, and fresh new toys ( more painted wood and plastic). Designed with love and only good intentions, a nursery can might actually be a tightly contained hotbed of contaminants and a health hazard in the making. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Given the fact indoor environments can and do have a direct effect on our well being, it is also true that we can take specific actions to literally do away with the impurities we have mindlessly interwoven into our living and working spaces. How? The simple solution can be found in a wide array of household plants and the residual effect is always beautifying.

Numerous scientific studies have proven that plant leaves have a natural ability to absorb and destroy organic chemicals floating in our breathing space through a process know as “metabolic breakdown”. Nature has equipped plants with the ability to miraculously transform pollutants into a source of food for itself and the microbial environment that exists in the soil surrounding its roots. In simple terms, pollutants are absorbed via microscopic openings in leaves called stomata. The toxins are then digested or “translocated” to the roots where they are converted by organic microorganisms into a virtual feast.

A second way plants supply microbes with air pollutants is through “transpiration”, a process brought about when water vapor is emitted into the atmosphere from plant leaves. As water quickly moves up from the root system, resulting convection currents pull the tainted air down into the soil surrounding the roots where microbes begin the process of conversion.

If you could ask plants what organic chemicals they would find most delectable, my guess is the overwhelming favorite would be Formaldehyde because it is so prevalent. This toxic and potentially carcinogenic chemical is found to be emitted throughout the home from draperies, upholstered furniture, numerous fabrics, floor covering, gas stoves, and even from garbage bags and facial tissue.

Using this one example, there are dozens of plants that are extremely effective in removing Formaldehyde from a home’s air supply. By inundating the environment with a selection of leafy plants, it is possible to create a relative Formaldehyde (and other toxins) free environment. The following chart illustrates 50 different plants that are proven to be effective in gobbling up this toxin from the air and delivering it to the insatiable microorganisms living in the soil surrounding its roots:

There are numerous toxic organic chemical influences that affect our breathing space with most deriving from a material source that includes one type of solvent or another in its manufacturing. In addition to Formaldehyde, these are the most common organic chemicals found in many residential and commercial indoor settings: Acetone, Methyl alcohol, Ethyl acetate, Ethyl alcohol, Benzene, Trichloroethylene, Xylene and Toluene, plus Ammonia and Ammonium Hydroxide, the common element used in refrigeration.

Because it is so difficult to identify each and every toxin within your living space, it’s wise to include a variety of plants throughout the home with particular attention paid to rooms where the most time is being spent. Of course, it is of the upmost importance to address the needs of infants and children, to be certain every precaution is taken to produce the freshest and cleanest toxin free air as possible.

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