Plants studied successfully removed 97 per cent of the most harmful fumes from the air in just eight hours. Household air pollution caused 3.2 million premature deaths globally in 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Breathing petrol fumes can lead to lung irritation, headaches and nausea. Longer-term exposure has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, asthma and other chronic diseases, contributing to decreased life expectancy.
Though not proven, this suggests that removing these chemicals from indoor air could in turn reduce the risk of cancer. The UTS researchers, who teamed up with Australian plant-scaping company Ambius for the study, claim that most people spend 90 per cent of their time indoors at home, work or school, so improving air quality is ‘critical’.
Many workplaces, homes and even some schools have garages attached, are on a busy road or have a petrol station nearby – resulting in people being exposed to petrol-related chemicals every day, according to the researchers.
For the study, Ambius created nine green walls – vertical structures that have different types of plants or other greenery attached to them. The researchers then exposed each green wall — which had four plants attached and was sealed in perspex chambers — to petroleum vapour.
To do this, they put a 0.25ml cocktail of petrol-related chemicals in 80-degree heated baths, which were then placed in the nine perspex chambers. The scientists then waited for the fumes to turn into vapour. Each chamber was tested every hour to measure how much toxic vapour had been removed from the air by the house plants.
It was found that most fumes were removed within eight hours, but chemical levels continued to reduce beyond this time. Of the many petrol-related chemicals tested, the study found that plants were best at removing pneumonia-causing compounds called alkanes — of which 97.9 per cent disappeared. Benzene, a known carcinogen, also had one of the highest removal rates (85.9 per cent).
Associate Professor Fraser Torpy, who led the study, said the study marks the first time plants have been tested for their ability to remove petrol-related compounds and the results are ‘astounding. Not only can plants remove the majority of pollutants from the air in a matter of hours, but they also remove the most harmful petrol-related pollutants from the air most efficiently,’ he added.
The type of plants used for the study were Devil’s Ivy (Scindapsus Aureus), Spider Plant (Chlorophytum) and Arrowhead Plant (Syngonium).