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Australian scientists have proven plants can remove carcinogenic toxins from the air

World first research by UTS shows how plants can remove toxic compounds from inside our homes

Research and psychologists have been telling us for years about the benefits of having plants inside our homes, it improves mental health, creates an aesthetically pleasing interior and enhances air quality.

Now a world-first study conducted by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has uncovered a never before proven set of capabilities for plants; their ability and efficacy in removing toxic petrol fumes from indoor air.

The study was led by bioremediation researcher UTS Associate Professor Fraser Torpy, in partnership with plantscaping company, Ambius.

The researchers found that a small green wall, containing a mix of indoor plants, was highly effective at removing harmful, cancer-causing pollutants, with 97 per cent of the most toxic compounds removed from the surrounding air in just eight hours.

UTS lab testing chamber

UTS lab testing chamber

Professor Torpy says the study results, based on measurements from a sealed chamber, had far exceeded their expectations when it came to removing petrol pollutants from the air.

“This is the first time plants have been tested for their ability to remove petrol-related compounds, and the results are astounding.

Previous studies on indoor plants have shown they can remove a broad range of indoor air contaminants, however this is the first study into the ability of plants to clean up petrol vapors, which are one of the largest sources of toxic compounds in buildings worldwide.

Poor indoor air quality is responsible for 6.7 million premature deaths globally, according to the World Health Organisation. 

According to Professor Torpy, the exposure of vehicle associated pollutants is constant in urban homes.

 “Our study found that not only can plants remove the majority of pollutants from the air in a matter of hours, they remove the most harmful petrol-related pollutants from the air most efficiently, for example, known carcinogen Benzene is digested at a faster rate than less harmful substances, like alcohols,’’ Professor Tory says.

“We also found that the more concentrated the toxins in the air, the faster and more effective the plants became at removing the toxins, showing that plants adapt to the conditions they’re growing in.’’

UTS Lab chamber

UTS lab plants

Which plants are best?

Professor Tory says rather than focussing on particular plant varieties, which vary in efficacy by 5 per cent, the focus should be on growing healthy plants.

“Some plants are slightly better than others, that’s true. But the answer is more plants, choose plants that make you happy, choose plants that are likely to grow, choose plants you like the look of and have an aesthetic,’’ he says.

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