The importance of indoor air quality to human health has become of increasing interest in developed countries where inhabitants often spend over 90% of their time indoors (Jenkins et al., 1992; Snyder, 1990). Indoor air has been reported to be as much as 12 times more polluted than that outdoors (Ingrosso, 2002; Orwell et al., 2004; Zabiegała, 2006). Indoor air pollutants primarily originate from building product emissions, human activities inside the building, and infiltration of outdoor air (Wolkoff and Nielsen, 2001; Zabiegała, 2006) and have increased as a result of the lower gas exchange rates of newer, more energy-efficient buildings (Cohen, 1996). Indoor air pollutants include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter, ozone, radon, lead, and biological contaminants (Destaillats et al., 2008). Exposure can cause acute illnesses (e.g., asthma, nausea) and chronic diseases (e.g., cancer, immunologic, neurologic, reproductive, developmental, and respiratory disorders) (Suh et al., 2000).
VOCs emanating from paints, varnishes, adhesives, furnishings, clothing, solvents, building materials, combustion appliances, and potable water (Jones, 1999; Maroni et al., 1995; Zabiegała, 2006) have a negative effect on indoor air quality (Darlington et al., 2000). VOCs are generally classified as aromatic hydrocarbons (e.g., benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene), aliphatic hydrocarbons (e.g., hexane, heptane, octane, decane), halogenated hydrocarbons [e.g., trichloroethylene (TCE), methylene chloride], and terpenes (e.g., α-pinene, d-limonene) (Jones, 1999; Suh et al., 2000; Wolkoff and Nielsen, 2001; Won et al., 2005; Zabiegała, 2006). Benzene and toluene, octane, TCE, and α-pinene are representative VOCs from each class (i.e., aromatic hydrocarbons, aliphatic hydrocarbons, halogenated hydrocarbons, and terpenes, respectively) and are considered to be important indoor air pollutants as a result of their toxicity (Liu et al., 2007; Newman et al., 1997; Orwell et al., 2006).
Plants remove VOCs from indoor air through stomatal uptake, absorption, and adsorption to plant surfaces (Beattie and Seibel, 2007; Korte et al., 2000; Sandhu et al., 2007). Several indoor species have been screened for their ability to remove benzene (Liu et al., 2007), some of which could remove 40 to 88 mg·m−3·d−1 (Orwell et al., 2004), in addition to other VOCs (e.g., toluene, TCE, m-xylene, hexane) (Cornejo et al., 1999; Orwell et al., 2006; Wood et al., 2002; Yoo et al., 2006). The efficiency of VOC removal varies substantially among species (Yoo et al., 2006) and with the molecular characteristics of each compound. To date, only a limited number of indoor species have been tested for their phytoremediation potential and the range of pollutants assessed is even more limited (Cornejo et al., 1999; Ugrekhelidze et al., 1997; Wolverton et al., 1989; Wood et al., 2002). It is evident that a better understanding of the phytoremediation potential of a diverse range of indoor plants is needed. In this study, a cross-section of indoor plants (28 species) was screened for their ability to remove five important VOCs with differing chemistries (benzene, toluene, octane, TCE, and α-pinene).
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