The Level of Volatile Organic Compounds Exposure in New Buildings: Can Adding Indoor Potted Plants Reduce Exposure?
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Session presented on Friday, September 26, 2014: Background: According to Florence Nightingale, the connection between health and the dwelling of the population is one of the most important that exists. In the United States, people spend approximately 90% of their time indoors with a typical work week consisting of 40 to 50 hours, frequently exposing them to indoor air pollutants, some of which can be harmful to the human body. These indoor air pollutants, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), have been found to be much higher in new buildings. Research shows that VOCs can cause acute and chronic health effects (e.g., headaches, genotoxicity, CNS depression, cancer, and congenital abnormalities) making discovering ways to reduce the amount of VOCs in the workplace critical. It is vital as nurses to educate patients on harmful chemicals and ways to find efficient, cost effective ways to reduce them. One way to accomplish this is by adding plants to dwelling spaces which has shown to greatly decrease the level of air pollutants. Formaldehyde, acetone, styrene, 2-methylbutane, and toluene are examples of some VOCs that have shown to cause serious health effects. This study sought to determine the health effects and levels of these VOCs and determined if their levels decreased after the addition of indoor plants. Methods: Two offices were tested in a newer building and two offices were tested in an older building. The chemical levels were tested before plants were added and were retested after plants were added at four and six weeks. Results: In the new building, formaldehyde increased by the fourth week, but decreased by the sixth week, while acetone decreased by the fourth week and increased by the sixth week. In the older building, acetone increased by the fourth week and decreased by the sixth week. Formaldehyde decreased by the fourth week and increased by the sixth week. No styrene was found in any office at any time. A reduction in 2-methylbutane levels was observed in two out of four post-plant measurements and a reduction in toluene levels was observed in three out of four post-plant measurements. Conclusion: Employees may become exposed to VOCs in office buildings. As healthcare providers, nurses can educate people about what these harmful chemicals are and ways to reduce exposure. Nurses can also introduce efficient methods, such as adding plants, to decrease these chemicals in the places where people spend the most time.