Houseplants For Refinery Row


Houseplants For Refinery Row
by Rob Sproule

Canadians spend about 90% of our year indoors, with that number undoubtedly rising in the winter. When the mercury plunges, we close our windows and air re-circulates through the home. While we don’t often think about it, the household air we breath often contains more toxins than the air outside.

We bring most indoor pollution home with us. Consumer goods like particle board and plywood (a staple cheaper furniture), stuffed furniture, electronics, dryer sheets, laser printers, and cleaning products all emit gases like formaldyhyde into the air.

While it’s hard to eliminate all these things from our lives, we can start by asking which ones we can avoid (do we really need those dryer sheets), and which ones we can substitute (why not vinegar to clean the floors?) Off gassing is at its worst when the bookshelf, TV or couch has just been purchased, so leave them in the garage for a week to take the edge off.

Refinery Pollutants

Strathcona County is one of the best places to live in Canada (I would say the world). It’s proximity from Edmonton gives us the best of both big city and small town living. We have services-a-plenty and our robust industrial tax base gives us the wealth we need to make sure our children grow up with promising futures.

That being said, prosperity comes with a trade-off. In an investigation by the Sherwood Park News, Ben Proulx uncovered data released by the Alberta Environmental Monitoring Reporting and Evaluation Agency (AEMERA) that highlighted Strathcona County as a North American hot spot for industrial pollutants.

The industries lining our northern horizon are environmentally pro-active, but they’re still heavy industry and we still live in the shadow of their smoke-belching stacks. We can take steps to counter the specific pollutants that our refineries emit, and they aren’t as complicated as you probably think.

NASA, with its eye to creating synthetic vessels and shelters in space that are safe for humans, has conducted a massive 1984 study looking at how everyday houseplants can clean the air. Their results were remarkable, and they found that 15 plants can remove shocking amounts of nasty benzene, formaldehyde, and much more from the air. Just another reason why plants are amazing!
Air Cleaning Plants

Plants breath, or transpire, just like we do. In doing so, they pull toxins down to their root systems, where certain species of plants have symbiotic microbes. Astonishingly, these microorganisms feed on toxins like fertilizer, and in doing so help enhance the overall plant’s health. Formaldehyde actually makes a Boston Fern healthier even as it makes us sick.


Sherwood Park’s air contains, periodically, significant levels of benzene. There’s really no “safe” level of benzene, which is present in everything from car exhaust to household glues to industrial refining. Odourless and quick to evaporate in air, even low levels can cause bone marrow to not create enough red blood cells, leading to anemia and overall listlessness.

The humble Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum kochii), is famous for being able to bloom in staggeringly low-light. It’s also one of the best houseplants out there for removing benzene – not to mention ammonia and formaldehyde – from the air. A great plant to have around while you’re doing renovations to suck up construction toxins, it’s also good to help around electronics to filter the off-gassed acetone.

The hard-to-kill English Ivy loves to gobble benzene, and has been found to remove 90% of it from a sealed chamber. If you have fresh carpet or paint, or lots of plastic or particle board furniture, load up with cheap English Ivy.


Read through our Growing Guides for tips to enrich your garden! 

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