By John DeFore
Green Right Now

The sickening effects of atmospheric formaldehyde may have become a hot topic thanks to FEMA trailers after Hurricane Katrina, but the problem is hardly limited to mobile homes. Formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a widespread health concern introduced to buildings through industrial textiles like carpeting and by materials, like plywood, that use certain adhesives.

That doesn’t mean we have to accept living in toxic rooms. Researchers in Korea have measured the extent to which household plants can clean the air, and their discoveries are encouraging.

In a report whose findings are currently circulating online, Kwang Jin Kim of Korea’s National Horticultural Research Institute says that he was able to use plants to remove 80% of the formaldehyde in a room within four hours.

In rooms without the plants, levels decreased naturally by around 7% during a five-hour period.

The team tested unusual configurations of the plants, from setups in which leafy parts were trimmed away to others in which the below-ground portion of the plant was sealed off from the room’s air.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best performer was an array of complete plants – specifically, the Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) and Fatsia japonica, an evergreen shrub. Microorganisms in the potting soil contributed to the air-cleaning process, the scientists believe.

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