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The Potted-Plant Microcosm Substantially Reduces Indoor Air VOC Pollution: I. Office Field-Study


Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are major contaminants of indoor air, with concentrations often several times higher than outdoors. They are recognized as causative agents of “building-related illness” or “sick-building syndrome”. Our previous laboratory test-chamber studies have shown that the potted-plant/root-zone microorganism microcosm can eliminate high concentrations of air-borne VOCs within 24 hours, once the removal response has been induced by an initial dose. However, the effectiveness of the potted-plant microcosm in ‘real-world’ indoor spaces has never previously been tested experimentally. This paper reports the results of a field-study on the effects of potted-plant presence on total VOC (TVOC) levels, measured in 60 offices (12 per treatment), over two 5–9 week periods, using three planting regimes, with two ‘international indoor-plant’ species. Fourteen VOCs were identified in the office air. When TVOC loads in reference offices rose above 100 ppb, large reductions, of from 50 to 75% (to <100 ppb), were found in planted offices, under all planting regimes The results indicate that air-borne TVOC levels above a threshold of about 100 ppb stimulate the graded induction of an efficient metabolic VOC-removal mechanism in the microcosm. Follow-up laboratory dose-response experiments, reported in the following paper, confirm the graded induction response, over a wide range of VOC concentrations. The findings together demonstrate that potted-plants can provide an efficient, self-regulating, low-cost, sustainable, bioremediation system for indoor air pollution, which can effectively complement engineering measures to reduce indoor air pollution, and hence improve human wellbeing and productivity.

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Correspondence to Margaret D. Burchett.

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Wood, R.A., Burchett, M.D., Alquezar, R. et al. The Potted-Plant Microcosm Substantially Reduces Indoor Air VOC Pollution: I. Office Field-Study. Water Air Soil Pollut 175, 163–180 (2006).

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