Sunday 4 December 2016

Clear the fug with some 'spiders' in a pot

Joe Kennedy

Published 24/01/2016 | 02:30

HUMBLE POT PLANT: The ubiquitous spider plant can get rid toxic agents in the air introduced through scented products
HUMBLE POT PLANT: The ubiquitous spider plant can get rid toxic agents in the air introduced through scented products

Is it healthier to live in a draughty old house where the wind may whistle through the slates and sometimes opens doors as if by invisible hands?

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Friendly sounds from fireplaces, apart from roosting pigeons, may be comforting and a cheerful blaze draws well on winter evenings.

Or would it be much wiser to be well sealed from the vagaries of Irish weather and be snug as a bug in a rug with panelled walls, extra glazing and air-tight draught exclusion?

This is about to happen to the old house (circa 1904) where this deathless prose is squeezed out between pencil and thumb.

The landlord has proper concern for energy conservation as well as human welfare, indeed, fearing a rigid form might be found staring out at shredded willows where there was a field and stream but is now a building site of human turmoil.

Tight as a drum then, or patience with those chilly currents that waft up stairways and landings and the once freezing quarters of girls from rural parts whose job was to light dawn fires and serve the master's and mistress's breakfast tea?

But a note of caution is required before the pleasant drift to domestic comfort.

Science mentions "indoor pollution" in some modern households and suggests air-tight, ultra-clean, insulated homes could constitute a health hazard, containing within them residues of scented cleaning products which release chemical substances.

But, fear not, the natural world is at hand and growing plants in pots is nature's way to better air quality. The humble house plant can remove toxic agents naturally.

Scented candles, air fresheners, plug-ins and washing-up liquids with aromas of citrus and pine are pleasant and not considered harmful. But what happens when they are released into the household air is a concern.

A Dr Saleyha Ahsan, in The Guardian last week, pointed out that one of the known secondary products of fragrance chemicals is formaldehyde, which has carcinogenic, skin and breathing-irritant properties. Asthma sufferers take care! This chemical conjures up memories of nature activities, as a watered-down solution - formalin - preserves biological specimens.

Formaldehyde belongs to a group of organic compounds which in small concentrations are a normal part of the environment.

But exposure to high levels within an air-tight area is not recommended.

In a test in England where there was much dog activity, with considerable mopping-up to clean muddy floors plus the use of air fresheners, a high concentration of formaldehyde was found. There is a simple way to deal with this - bring in some house plants!

Four plants - chlorophytum (spider), dracaena (dragon tree), scindapsus (golden potos) and hedera helix (English ivy) - were placed in draught-proof rooms with scented candles and results showed that formaldehyde levels fell.

Dr Ahsan, of BBC2's Trust Me I'm a Doctor, says chemical levels can be controlled by using fewer fragrance products or choosing unscented ones.

We can, of course, be more tolerant of a few draughts, which will mean fewer toxic chemicals hanging about.

But the winning formula is to be an indoor-plants person with attractive growths - especially that shaggy-leaved fellow, the ubiquitous spider. Don't throw it out in the spring cleaning!

Sunday Independent

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