Did you catch last night's Channel 4 Dispatches program on air pollution ahead of the Royal College of Physicians report due to be published today? It was quite an eye opener. And recent research shows that there's alarming levels of indoor pollution as well as outdoor pollution that we are exposed to. In the experiment in the show, simply using the kitchen cooker resulted in more pollutant than you might expect to be exposed to on a busy main road.
Pollution and poor air quality has long been linked to asthma, but new research goes further and suggests that not only could it exacerbate it, but it may actually be the cause of it. Breathing in poor quality air is also linked to higher risk of heart attacks and strokes, and in experiments carried out by Professor Sunya, air quality significantly impacts on children's concentration, memory and therefore their learning.
Indoor pollutants have long been known about, especially in areas with high levels of electronic equipment - why do you think office complexes take out expensive contracts with horticultural companies to have houseplants installed?
But even in your home, TVs, furniture, soft furnishings, carpets, kitchen equipment, cleaning products, DIY materials and paint can all contribute to polluting your air.
Right now you are probably breathing in benzene, trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, xylene and ammonia. These toxic chemicals are found in household items and have such side effects as headaches, nausea, heart palpitations, irritation to the nasal passages and eyes, drowsiness and dizziness as well as more serious long-term effects.
But fear not! Some time ago NASA (that's right - NASA the space people!) carried out some scientific research to find the plants which were most effective at filtering out harmful toxins and provide us with cleaner air.
If you have pets or are worried about children ingesting any part of the plants, then those considered to be non-toxic are the spider plant, the gerbera and the bamboo palm.
Here's the low-down on the top 10 commonly found houseplants and their air-purifying abilities:
1. Peace Lily
Latin name - spathiphyllum. The ever-popular housewarming gift. A great low-maintenance houseplant, thriving in shade and will only need watering about once a week. Peace lilies are however poisonous to both humans and animals so do take special care if you have children or pets. This is a big-hitter in air cleaning terms, filtering out formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, tricoloroethylene and ammonia.
Latin name Hedera Helix. Commonly found in the UK, The English Ivy is a great trailing plant to have either as a hanging plant, or for displaying at height. The leaves are poisonous so be sure to keep it out of reach of pets and children. A great air purifying plant, it is known to filter formaldehyde, xylene, benzene and tricoloroethylene as well as carbon monoxide.
3. Mother-In-Law's Tongue
Latin name - sansevieria trifasciata. Also known as snake plant. The variegated leaves add interest, and the structural shape works well in modern interiors. Another low-maintenance plant, it will only require watering every few months over winter. It's found to be good at filtering out formaldehyde, xylene, benzene and trichloroethylene.
4. Aloe Vera
Latin name - aloe barbadensis. I can't walk past one of these without offering a hearty 'aloe Vera' greeting, but besides that this is a hugely beneficial plant in terms of it's medicinal benefits. Great for soothing skin ailments and sun burn, the juice is also great for digestion and gastric complaints. Being a dessert plant it requires very little maintenance. It has great toxin filtering abilities too, tackling formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene and ammonia.
5. Flamingo Lily
Latin name - anthurium andraeanum. This bold tropical plant with it's striking scarlet waxy flowers is definitely a statement plant. Cleans toxins formaldehyde, ammonia and xylene from the air.
Latin name - gerbera jamesonii. Great for adding a pop of colour in your home with it's bright and cheery flowers. This daisy is popular as a cut flower, but far better to have it as a houseplant than in a bouquet as it will clean the air of formaldehyde, xylene and trichloroethylene.
7. Rubber plant
Latin name - ficus elastica. The large, striking waxy leaves and upright growth make this a great statement houseplant. The rubber sap released when the plant is cut or bruiesed is poisonous to humans and animals. It's useful for filtering carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.
8. Spider Plant
Latin name - chlorophytum comosum. Every home in the seventies had one, this is such a giving plant, sprouting off free 'babies' from the ends of it's leaves. They are easy to propagate and you could keep all your friends in free plants too. Spider plants are good at removing poisonous gases, so useful to keep near your boiler or any gas or real fires where carbon monoxide can be produced. Shown to filter xylene and formaldehyde.
Latin name - Ficus Benjamina. This structural plant is more of a tree than a simple pot plant, so it will provide a striking focal point in a room. The milky sap inside the leaves and stems is toxic. The Weeping Fig with it's glossy leaves is effective at filtering formaldehyde and xylene.
10. Bamboo Palm
Latin name - chamaedorea seifrizii. This is the perfect houseplant if you want an exotic, tropical look. Originating in South America, this plant became popular with the Victorian Brits. It's useful for filtering xylene and formaldehyde.
So, not only will having live plants in your house improve your mood and your decor, but they could have a positive effect on your health too. Do you have any of these plants in your home? Were you aware of these added benefits?