When most people think about air pollution, they usually think about smog, burning coal and car exhaust, but air pollution isn't just an outdoor problem.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more and more scientific evidence shows that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest, most industrialized cities.
"Windows are closed more in the winter, which can increase indoor pollutants and allergens due to less ventilation," said Dr. Douglas Jones, an allergist at Rocky Mountain Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in Layton.
But there's a natural, effective way to clean some of those pollutants from indoor air: house plants.
"Plants are a great thing to do," said Don Hooper, interim executive director at the American Lung Association of Utah. "There was a study done recently that showed if you have 15 plants in your home, it will clear the air in approximately 1,080 square feet."
Hooper said it's very important for people with compromised respiratory systems to identify their triggers before their health is endangered.
"A lot of people will get rid of their carpets and big rugs and opt for hardwood or tile floors," Hooper said. "Furnace filters should also be changed more often."
Allergens, such as pet dander, can increase in homes this time of year, Jones said. In addition, there also can be an increase in environmental tobacco smoke, nitrogen dioxide, which comes from indoor natural gas appliances, and endotoxins, which originate from molds, bacteria and domestic animals. Dirty ventilation systems can also contribute to worsened air quality indoors.
Symptoms of indoor air pollution can include increased coughing, nasal congestion, drainage, sinus headaches and even worsening asthma, Jones said.
"Worsening asthma symptoms include increased shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing or coughing," Jones said.
David Gibby, owner of Gibby Floral in Riverdale, holds a Ph.D. in plant physiology and started the master gardener program at Washington State University several years ago. He said plants are the best and cheapest way to rid the air of toxins.
"It doesn't really matter what type of plant you get. Plants will scrub away a lot of impurities in the air," Gibby said. "People who have indoor plants are going to notice that the room feels healthier. When you walk into a greenhouse or a forest you just feel better. That's because those plants are busy scrubbing the air."
A study conducted by the national Center for Atmospheric Research, published in the October edition of Science Express, shows that plants clean the air better than expected.
During the study, researchers focused on oxygenated volatile organic compounds, or oVOCs, which can have long-term environmental and human impacts. By measuring the compound levels in a number of ecosystems across the world, researchers determined that deciduous plants appear to be soaking up the compounds four times faster than previously thought.
Gibby said plants are better than any artificial devices when it comes to keeping the air clean.
"You can buy all of the humidifiers you want, but they're not going to duplicate what nature will do," he said. "The more plants you get, the merrier, but you will see improvement with just two or three."
Try the following plants in your home to provide oxygen and remove toxins:
* Ivy -- It likes indirect light, to be evenly watered, and doesn't mind drying out occasionally.
* Spider plants -- They are great pollution fighters that are easy to grow in moderate light, and they attract few insects.
* Peace Lilies -- They are easy to care for, should be kept moist, and will wilt when they need to be watered.
* Ferns -- They need medium or bright indirect light. The Boston fern is a good pollution-fighting variety, and requires little maintenance aside from dealing with dropped fronds.
* Ficus trees -- They need medium to high light. They shouldn't be watered until their leaves begin to turn yellow. They are sensitive to changes in light and cold drafts, but once established, they are easy to care for.
Source: The Professional Landcare Network, www.landcarenetwork.org