Plant leaves as indoor air passive samplers for volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

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Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) enter indoor environments through internal and external sources. Indoor air concentrations of VOCs vary greatly but are generally higher than outdoors. Plants have been promoted as indoor air purifiers for decades, but reports of their effectiveness differ. However, while air-purifying applications may be questionable, the waxy cuticle coating on leaves may provide a simple, cost-effective approach to sampling indoor air for VOCs. To investigate the potential use of plants as indoor air VOC samplers, a static headspace approach was used to examine the relationship between leaf and air concentrations, leaf lipid contents and octanol-air partition coefficients (Koa) for six VOCs and four plant species. The relationship between leaf and air concentrations was further examined in an actual residence after the introduction of several chlorinated VOC emission sources. Leaf-air concentration factors (LACFs), calculated from linear regressions of the laboratory headspace data, were found to increase as the solvent extractable leaf lipid content and Koa value of the VOC increased. In the studies conducted in the residence, leaf concentrations paralleled the changing air concentrations, indicating a relatively rapid air to leaf VOC exchange. Overall, the data from the laboratory and residential studies illustrate the potential for plant leaves to be used as cost effective, real-time indoor air VOC samplers.

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