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Living proof: plants reduce harmful compounds in the air by 50%!

We regularly spend more than 90% of our time inside, and the air we breathe during this time may be 5 to 10 times more polluted than the air outside. Research carried out by climate architect Marius Ballieux, supported by Waterdrinker Aalsmeer and Nieuwkoop Europe, shows that plants filter out many of the harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air. This is, of course, great for our health, but it also proves that plants can partially take over the function of ventilation systems!.


plants in school

Photo: (c) Nieuwkoop Europe


At the moment, expensive ventilation systems are usually allowed for in designs for buildings such as schools, office premises or hotels. The owner of Ballieux Organic Architects, Marius Ballieux, is dedicated to organic architecture and ‘Bouwen met de Natuur’© (Dutch: ‘Building with Nature‘). What he would like to see is the use of plants being taken into account beforehand, during the design of buildings, instead of afterwards when they have already been completed. His primary reason for this is that plants are natural air purifiers and can, to a certain extent, take over the role of the aforementioned ventilation systems. This is not only a wonderful example of organic architecture, but it saves a lot of money too.

Concentration VOCs drops to null point in a few hours

Ballieux knows: ‘Hard figures are needed to realise this’. And he has been carrying out tests with NASA-validated equipment for some considerable time in order to deliver these hard figures. The equipment in question measures the composition of the air, right down to the molecular level. The important thing here is not so much the quantity of oxygen in the air (normally 20-21%) as it is the concentration of VOCs.

Humans excrete these substances, but they are also in products and softening agents used all around us. Consider furniture, floor coverings and electrical equipment, for example. If people are in a room which has a high concentration of VOCs in the air, they can develop headaches, allergies and other symptoms.

Ballieux began placing plants in test environments to find out which ones do what. This revealed that a plant immediately begins to absorb VOCs and can bring down the levels of VOCs in the air to zero in just a few hours. Having achieved positive results in test environments, Ballieux wanted to try things out in an existing environment. And what could be more appropriate for this than a classroom of 30 pupils? Because Waterdrinker Aalsmeer and Nieuwkoop Europe endorse the importance of plants in our living environment, they supported Ballieux’s research.

Indoor climate improves by 50%

The Jozefschool in Aalsmeer (The Netherlands) was found willing to make two classrooms available for a test: measuring instruments and plants were placed in one classroom, and measuring instruments without plants were placed in the other. Although only 30 plants could be placed in the first classroom instead of the 75 plants needed for the best possible outcome, the results were still astounding.

The level of VOCs in the classroom with plants was reduced by no less than 50%! And that means: a better indoor climate for pupils and teachers, fewer illness symptoms and fewer problems with allergies. This is, of course, in addition to the other positive effects known to be related to the presence of plants: a better ability to concentrate, less aggression, and better learning outcomes.

Ballieux Organic Architects, Nieuwkoop Europe and Waterdrinker will continue to carry out tests, because these initial results constitute a breakthrough in the three parties’ pursuit of a healthy, green living environment!



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