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Plants To The Rescue
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Plants To The Rescue

Areca Palms are one of the plants found most effective to improving indoor air quality

Topic

Indoor Air Pollution Control

Student Exploration

Problems With Your Air? Plants May Be The Answer.

Air pollution is a problem in many parts of the world. In cities, like Los Angeles, California in the United States or New Delhi in India, oxygen levels can drop to around 15% or lower many days a year. How low is 15%? That's about a 30% reduction in available oxygen compared to sea level oxygen levels. Now, if you think of how your body uses oxygen and what your body uses oxygen for, that's not a good situation. Keep in mind, this is just considering oxygen levels and doesn't even consider the various toxins people are breathing in these cities. Make no mistake, air pollution at these levels will wear your body down. So what can you do? Well, NASA had to face the problem of air quality when they first started dreaming of space stations and sustainable off-world colonies. After all, how do you keep air fresh in a sealed container floating in an oxygen-free environment or on a planet where oxygen levels are limited? For a possible answer, NASA turned to the source of most of the oxygen on our planet...plants. They found not only could plants boost oxygen levels, but they also could clean the air of toxic chemicals. Now this work has been applied by Kamal Meattle to solve problems right here on Earth.

Now that you've heard the basic story you can find more details on the NASA work that inspired the work in New Delhi, India at this link: http://www.extension.umn.edu/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/h110indoorair.html

Extension Investigation

Use the resources below to answer the following questions:

  1. Plants can improve air quality by increasing oxygen levels. How else can they improve air quality?
  2. What are some of the sources of indoor air pollution? How has improved insulation in houses made indoor air quality worse?
  3. Our bodies need oxygen to burn fuel (carbohydrates) and run chemical reactions, including detoxifying substances. How do you think low oxygen levels in the air affect our bodies' ability to deal with toxins? Explain you answer as fully as you can.
  4. Why are "Mother's-in-law Tongue" called bedroom plants? How do they differ from other plants? Why do you think this trait is advantageous in their natural environment?
  5. How does the office building in New Delhi affect the oxygen level in people's blood? Would you expect to see this effect in all locations? Why or why not? Think carefully before answering this question and be a specific as you can.

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