Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 177, Issue 1–4, pp 59–80 | Cite as

The Potted-Plant Microcosm Substantially Reduces Indoor Air VOC Pollution: II. Laboratory Study

  • Ralph L. Orwell
  • Ronald A. Wood
  • Margaret D. Burchett
  • Jane Tarran
  • Fraser Torpy


Indoor air-borne loads of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are usually significantly higher than those outdoors, and chronic exposures can cause health problems. Our previous laboratory studies have shown that the potted-plant microcosm, induced by an initial dose, can eliminate high air-borne VOC concentrations, the primary removal agents being potting-mix microorganisms, selected and maintained in the plant/root-zone microcosm. Our office field-study, reported in the preceding paper, showed that, when total VOC (TVOC) loads in reference offices (0 plants) rose above about 100 ppb, levels were generally reduced by up to 75% (to < 100 ppb) in offices with any one of three planting regimes. The results indicate the induction of the VOC removal mechanism at TVOC levels above a threshold of about 100 ppb. The aims of this laboratory dose-response study were to explore and analyse this response. Over from 5 to 9 days, doses of 0.2, 1.0, 10 and 100 ppm toluene and m-xylene were applied and replenished, singly and as mixtures, to potted-plants of the same two species used in the office study. The results confirmed the induction of the VOC removal response at the lowest test dosage, i.e in the middle of the TVOC range found in the offices, and showed that, with subsequent dosage increments, further stepwise induction occurred, with rate increases of several orders of magnitude. At each dosage, with induction, VOC concentrations could be reduced to below GC detection limits (< 20 ppb) within 24 h. A synergistic interaction was found with the binary mixtures, toluene accelerating m-xylene removal, at least at lower dosages. The results of these two studies together demonstrate that the potted-plant microcosm can provide an effective, self-regulating, sustainable bioremediation or phytoremediation system for VOC pollution in indoor air.


indoor air pollution VOC TVOC toluene m-xylene “sick building syndrome” “building related illness” environmental biotechnology bioremediation phytoremediation potted-plant 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ralph L. Orwell
    • 1
  • Ronald A. Wood
    • 1
  • Margaret D. Burchett
    • 1
  • Jane Tarran
    • 1
  • Fraser Torpy
    • 1
  1. 1.Plants and Environmental Quality Group, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of TechnologySydneyAustralia

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