Trees As Volatile Organic Compound Filters

I guess we don’t need more reasons to plant and preserve more trees, but here’s some additional news sure to please tree-huggers everywhere plus provides extra ammunition in the fight to preserve forests and rehabilitate damaged land through tree-planting.

New research led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has found vegetation plays an huge role in cleansing the atmosphere and that deciduous plants absorb about a third more of a certain kind of air polluting chemicals than previously believed.

And by pollutants, they mean really dangerous chemicals – volatile organic compounds (VOCs); which include benzene, toluene, formaldehyde and xylene. These are all carcinogenic and can contaminate soil for long periods. 

Additionally, the team found that when the trees they studied were under stress through a physical wound or exposure to an irritant such as ozone pollution, they began dramatically increasing their uptake of VOCs. 

The uptake is especially noticeable in thick forests and towards the tops of forest canopies, which account for as much as 97 percent of the VOC uptake that was observed. The trees metabolize these chemicals with special enzymes that transform the chemicals into less toxic substance.

You can read more about NCAR’s findings here.

One of the unsettling issues regarding VOCs is that they can be in higher concentrations inside your home than outside due to the materials used to build homes these days. Way back in the late 80’s NASA studies showed that certain types of indoor plants were great air filters; specifically in relation to indoor VOC reduction.