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Kwang Jin Kim, Eun Ha Yoo, and Stanley J. Kays

Begonia maculata, Ardisia crenata, and Ardisia japonica plants exposed to 3.5 ppm toluene in air for 12 h displayed a pronounced stimulation (358%, 318%, and 252%, respectively) in subsequent toluene removal potential. The duration of the stimulation effect, monitored over 3 weeks, was short-lived decaying to prestimulation levels within 1 to 7 days depending on species. Elevated phytoremediation rate was dependent on the continued presence of toluene. The rapid rate of increase in phytoremediation and subsequent decay points toward a response mediated by changes in gene expression by the plant, microorganisms within the media, or both rather than an alteration in microbe population. A better understanding of the stimulation response may facilitate the use of plants for indoor air remediation in homes and offices.

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Creighton K. Thomas, Kwang Jin Kim, and Stanley J. Kays

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in homes and offices represent a potentially serious health problem for exposed individuals. While certain indoor plants have been shown to remove VOCs in small test chambers, the results have not consistently translated to larger, more complex structures. We report the results of a mathematical model that assesses the effect of plants on the removal of benzene or other VOCs in buildings, incorporating the primary variables modulating indoor air VOC concentration. Building air volume, amount of plant material, VOC concentration and air exchange, VOC emanation, and plant phytoremediation rates can be altered over ranges reported in the literature, clarifying the relationship among these parameters and thereby identifying the most appropriate interior air remediation options. The results indicate existing published phytoremediation rates determined using small test chambers are far higher than can be achieved with static potted plants in buildings, and facilitated air movement through the plant media will most likely be essential for phytoremediation to be a viable means of improving indoor air quality.

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Hyojin Kim, Ho-Hyun Kim, Jae-Young Lee, Yong-Won Lee, Dong-Chun Shin, Kwang-Jin Kim, and Young-Wook Lim

A cohort of sixth grade students at two newly constructed elementary schools in Seoul, South Korea, performed a self-assessment of ocular discomfort symptoms in association with indoor air quality (IAQ) by indoor plant intervention from early June to mid-Oct. 2011. Indoor plant intervention made little difference in air temperature and relative humidity, but stabilized the increasing levels of carbon dioxide. The indoor concentrations of formaldehyde and ethylbenzene showed little difference, but those of toluene and xylene showed a decreasing trend in classrooms with indoor plants. The participants in classrooms without indoor plants exhibited an increase in ocular discomfort symptoms at School A and a decrease in symptoms at School B; those in classrooms with indoor plants demonstrated a decrease in frequency at both schools. The variation of symptom severity did not follow a clear trend. Participants assessed their symptom severity of ocular discomfort with four options from three points for frequent occurrence to zero points for no occurrence. Among participants in classrooms without indoor plants, symptom severity significantly worsened at both schools as the scores increased from 1.96 to 2.17 at School A and from 2.27 to 2.34 at School B; among those in classrooms with indoor plants, symptom severity significantly lessened at School A and slightly worsened at School B as the scores decreased from 2.33 to 1.98 at School A and increased from 2.35 to 2.42 at School B. After spending the experimental duration in classrooms without indoor plants at both schools, 34.8% of participants at School A and 33.3% of participants at School B perceived their symptom severity as having increased. At Schools A and B, indoor plants decreased the frequency of participants experiencing an increase of symptom severity by 13.0% and 9.7%, and increased the frequency of participants reporting decrease of symptom severity by 34.8% and 22.6%.

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Kwang Jin Kim, Hyun Hwan Jung, Hyo Won Seo, Jung A. Lee, and Stanley J. Kays

Phytoremediation of volatile organic compounds in indoor air involves both the plant and microbes in the media; however, removal rate is typically expressed on a leaf area basis. We determined the effect of root media volume on phytoremediation rate of volatile toluene and xylene to determine if there is a change in phytoremediation efficiency. Phytoremediation rate was calculated based on the aboveground space occupied by the plant and on the leaf area. Foliage plants of Fatsia japonica and Draceana fragrans ‘Massangeana’ were grown in different-sized pots (1, 2, 4, 6, and 12 L) that gave aerial plant to root zone volume ratios of 21:1, 21:2, 21:3, and 21:6. Total root volume and root fresh weight increased in D. fragrans with increasing media volume, whereas root density per unit of media volume decreased in both species. The efficiency of volatile toluene and xylene removal by the plants was increased as the root zone volume increased, whereas removal efficiency per unit media volume increased and then decreased. The highest volatile toluene and xylene removal efficiency was at a ratio of 21:3 (aerial plant:root zone volume) in F. japonica and 21:2 in D. fragrans. When phytoremediation efficiency was expressed on a leaf area basis, the phytoremediation rate for toluene and xylene increased progressively for both species with increasing media volume and as root volume increased. Calculating the amount of plant material needed within a home or office to obtain sufficient volatile organic compound (VOC) removal cannot be accurately predicted base solely on a leaf area (LA) or aboveground volume basis.

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Kwang Jin Kim, Eun Ha Yoo, Myeong Il Jeong, Jeong Seob Song, Seung Youn Lee, and Stanley J. Kays

Changes in phytoremediation efficiency after repeated exposures (three) to toluene (1.3 ppm) were assessed in 26 species and two additional cultivars of indoor plants. There was a rapid increase in toluene removal efficiency in 27 of the 28 crops with the greatest increase between the first and second exposure (i.e., after 3 days). The increase in efficiency between the first and third exposure ranged from 378 μg·m−3·h−1·m−2 leaf area in Pinus densiflora to –16.6 in Salvia elegans with a mean of 156 for all crops. Percent change ranged from 614 (Pittosporum tobira) to –8 (Salvia elegans) but was not necessarily indicative of phytoremediation value of a species. Rapid changes in phytoremediation efficiency in response to exposure to toluene appear to be widespread in plants and may be the result of an effect on gene expression in the plant and/or certain soil microbes or changes in the population density of toluene-metabolizing microbes. Increasing toluene removal efficiency is advantageous and as a consequence, a better understanding of the mechanism(s) operative may improve use of the response for practical applications.

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Kwang Jin Kim, Mi Jung Kil, Jeong Seob Song, Eun Ha Yoo, Ki-Cheol Son, and Stanley J. Kays

The contribution of aerial plant parts versus the root zone to the removal of volatile formaldehyde by potted Fatsia japonica Decne. & Planch. and Ficus benjamina L. plants was assessed during the day and night. The removal capacity of the entire plant, aerial plant parts, and root zone was determined by exposing the relevant parts to gaseous formaldehyde (2 μL·L−1) in airtight chambers (1.0 m3) constructed of inert materials. The rate of formaldehyde removal was initially rapid but decreased as the internal concentration diminished in the chamber. To compare the removal efficiency between species and plant parts, the time interval required to reach 50% of the initial concentration was determined (96 and 123 min for entire plants of F. japonica and F. benjamina, respectively). In both species, the aerial plant parts reduced the formaldehyde concentration during the day but removed little during the night. However, the root zone eliminated a substantial amount of formaldehyde during the day and night. The ratio of formaldehyde removal by aerial plant parts versus the root zone was similar for both species, at ≈1:1 during the day and 1:11 at night. The effectiveness of the root zone in formaldehyde removal was due primarily to microorganisms and roots (≈90%); only about 10% was due to adsorption by the growing medium. The results indicate that the root zone is a major contributor to the removal of formaldehyde. A better understanding of formaldehyde metabolism by root zone microflora should facilitate maximizing the phytoremediation efficiency of indoor plants.

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Kwang Jin Kim, Myeong Il Jeong, Dong Woo Lee, Jeong Seob Song, Hyoung Deug Kim, Eun Ha Yoo, Sun Jin Jeong, Seung Won Han, Stanley J. Kays, Young-Wook Lim, and Ho-Hyun Kim

The efficiency of volatile formaldehyde removal was assessed in 86 species of plants representing five general classes (ferns, woody foliage plants, herbaceous foliage plants, Korean native plants, and herbs). Phytoremediation potential was assessed by exposing the plants to gaseous formaldehyde (2.0 μL·L−1) in airtight chambers (1.0 m3) constructed of inert materials and measuring the rate of removal. Osmunda japonica, Selaginella tamariscina, Davallia mariesii, Polypodium formosanum, Psidium guajava, Lavandula spp., Pteris dispar, Pteris multifida, and Pelargonium spp. were the most effective species tested, removing more than 1.87 μg·m−3·cm−2 over 5 h. Ferns had the highest formaldehyde removal efficiency of the classes of plants tested with O. japonica the most effective of the 86 species (i.e., 6.64 μg·m−3·cm−2 leaf area over 5 h). The most effective species in individual classes were: ferns—Osmunda japonica, Selaginella tamariscina, and Davallia mariesii; woody foliage plants—Psidium guajava, Rhapis excels, and Zamia pumila; herbaceous foliage plants—Chlorophytum bichetii, Dieffenbachia ‘Marianne’, Tillandsia cyanea, and Anthurium andraeanum; Korean native plants—Nandina domestica; and herbs—Lavandula spp., Pelargonium spp., and Rosmarinus officinalis. The species were separated into three general groups based on their formaldehyde removal efficiency: excellent (greater than 1.2 μg·m−3 formaldehyde per cm2 of leaf area over 5 h), intermediate (1.2 or less to 0.6), and poor (less than 0.6). Species classified as excellent are considered viable phytoremediation candidates for homes and offices where volatile formaldehyde is a concern.