VSJ – Feb 2002 – Sounding Board

Council member Paul Lynham, FIAP may not have a bee in his bonnet, but it sounds as if he’d like one….

Some studies have shown that people living in industrialised societies may spend up to 90% of their lives indoors. Okay, you may think, with the British weather that’s not so bad. However, the same studies have shown that increased exposure to indoor air pollutants correlates directly to an increase in the number of allergic reactions. A building whose air quality negatively affects those who occupy it suffers from Sick Building Syndrome.

Indoor air pollutants come from a number of sources such as carpeting, furnishings and synthetic building materials. However, electronic devices like photocopiers, printers and computer monitors also emit various compounds and can affect the amount of static electricity in the environment.

Many IT workers have been aware of health and safety issues concerning monitors – lighting, reflection, positioning, definition, radiation and so on – for many years. The effects of the pollutants released by such equipment on the environment and the workers in it have been less clearly understood.

While conducting research into the design of a breathable lunar habitat, NASA concluded that some common indoor plants could dramatically reduce the levels of toxic chemicals in poorly ventilated buildings. Certain plants can substantially decrease the levels of benzene, formaldehyde and trichlorethylene, amongst other toxins.

Benzene is found in many chemicals including inks, oils, paints, plastic and rubber. Formaldehyde is found in virtually all indoor environments and can be present in foam insulation, pressed wood products, consumer paper products treated with resins and many cleaning products. Trichlorethylene is an ingredient of inks, paints, lacquers and adhesives.

The following appear in NASA’s list of plants most effective in removing toxins from the air:

Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea Seifritzii)

Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema Modestum)

English Ivy (Hedera Helix)

Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera Jamesonii)

Janet Craig (Dracaena “Janet Craig”)

Marginata (Dracaena Marginata)

Moss Cane / Corn Plant (Dracaena Massangeana)

Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sensevieria Laurentii)

Pot Mum (Chrysantheium  Morifolium)

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa”)

Warneckii (Dracaena “Warneckii”)

Other plants that are effective include Weeping Fig, Golden Pothos, Aloe Vera, Heart Leaf Philodendron, Mini-Schefflera, Dwarf Date Palm, Rubber Plant, Boston Fern, Ficus Alii, Areca Palm and Peperomia.

Using plants to improve air quality makes sense, as they can clean the environment without using chemicals – chemicals that could themselves contribute to pollution. Plants are economical in that they can replace air filters, require no electricity and have the added advantage of enhancing the workplace both aesthetically and chemically. Also, in removing impurities, most emit oxygen.

Thus the overall effect of their use is that the risk of human sickness and stress is reduced, leading to increased productivity. Nobody can guarantee that having a plant next to your computer will improve your code, but you never know, with better air quality, it may allow you to think more clearly!

Something you’d like to get off your chest? Email me (Robin Jones) at eo@iap.org.uk.

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