Cold weather has finally moved in for 2017 and I’m not a fan. I prefer spring and summer, when you can spend time outside, open the windows, and turn on a ceiling fan. During the winter time, days are shorter, windows are closed, weather stripping is installed, and the outdoors seem to be off limits. Being stuck in a house most of the day isn’t my idea of fun, and has been linked to several health-related illnesses due to Volatile organic compounds or VOC’s.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Volatile organic compounds are chemical compounds that can affect the environment and human health. VOC’s are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids and include a variety of chemicals that may have short and long term adverse health effects. Some of these chemicals found in VOC’s include formaldehyde, benzene, carbon monoxide, xylene, trichloroethylene, and toluene. They can be found in many household products such as paints, varnishes, wax, solvents, cosmetic, disinfecting, degreasing, and hobby products. They are also found in dry cleaning, carpet, furnishings, copiers, printers, glues, adhesives, permanent markers, and building materials.
Some of the health effects may include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, damage to liver, kidney and the nervous system. Some are suspected or known to cause cancer in animals and humans.
If all these VOC’s are in our house, how do we reduce our exposure to them in winter? Start off by increasing ventilation when using these products and do not exceed label precautions. Buy small quantities and don’t store them indoors. If dry cleaned goods have a strong chemical odor, do not accept them until properly dried. Eliminate smoking in the home, and don’t allow vehicles or gasoline engines to run in the garage. A final step would be the addition of houseplants to your home, and there are several to choose from.
Aloe (Aloe Vera) filters formaldehyde and benzene from the air. They can also be used to soothe burns and cuts. Place them in a sunny kitchen window and water when the soil becomes dry.
Spider Plants (Chlorophytum comosum) is a hard to kill and resilient house plant. It filters benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and xylene from the air. They prefer dry soil, bright indirect sunlight and cool to average temperatures.
Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’) aka mother-in-law’s-tongue, filters formaldehyde from the air. They are best placed in the bathroom where there is low light and steamy humid conditions. They can also be placed in the bedroom because they release oxygen at night and absorbs carbon dioxide which can lead to a more restful sleep.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) filters formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, toluene, and xylene. Place these plants in a low light area and water once a week. If they are thirsty, they will begin to droop.
(Ficus Benjamina) filters formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene. It prefers bright, indirect light and moist soil medium. This is a finicky plant and can be tricky to keep alive indoors.
Chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium) filters benzene. Chrysanthemums prefers bright direct sunlight, so place near a window or open door. Choose the floral mum and not a garden variety.
English Ivy (Hedera helix) filters formaldehyde and small airborne particles. It prefers moist soil and needs at least four hours of direct sunlight daily.
Gerbera Daisy (Berbera jamesonii) filters trichloroethylene. Place these on a window sill where they can get six hours of direct sunlight.
For more information on houseplants, visit https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/tags/houseplants/, and for more information on indoor air quality, visit the EPA’s website at https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality.
Brad Hardison is an agricultural extension agent specializing in horticulture. Contact him by calling the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Center at 910-592-7161 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.