The other day I was discussing the effects of air pollution with one of my acquaintance,and she casually mentioned about growing trees. She said, “Buy some indoor plants for your home and try planting a few trees in your area; you should be fine!” That got me thinking. Is it really that easy? If trees can really solve our problem then why are cities like Bangalore that have trees in abundance not pollution free? So the whole thing is more complicated than we think. So here is what I understood after days of reading research articles on this subject and talking to environmentalists. Plants DO help in fighting pollution, but not to the extent we are led to believe,and it certainly can’t be your only means of improving air quality. According to NASA clean air study, certain plants help in removing toxic VOX compounds from your indoor space and also make it breathable and fresh. A more recent study (2004) also points out that certain micro-organisms present in the potted soil can also help in removing the concentration of benzene from the air. However, prolonged exposure to such compounds can also harm the plants. It weakens plants and stunts their growth making them damaged and eventually killing them. While we are not here to discuss the ethics behind this, having indoor plants clearly doesn’t seem to be as effective as we have been made to believe.

Trees as a Source for Pollution

You read that right! Certain trees like the pine emit volatile gases into the atmosphere. You would have noticed the organic haze due to this emission in a mountainous terrain surrounded by pine trees. You can also evidently smell the isoprene when you walk through a pine forest. These volatile compounds react with catalysts like nitric oxide in the air and form ozone, a major component of air pollution. So much for combating air pollution, trees actually are the reason for air pollution in this case! We can also not ignore the fact that during spring, many trees release pollen into the atmosphere which is a major pollutant that can trigger a variety of respiratory ailments. Some environmentalists also point that trees with a dense canopy can actually suffocate us. While on the outside an urban space densely populated with trees on both sides would sound like paradise, it is actually not so. This is because a dense canopy of trees can act as a barrier for airflow and restrict smoke and carcinogenic gases from getting dispersed into the atmosphere. This can over time severely impact the air quality of the area. Having more trees in an otherwise pollution-prone area can break the wind flow and restrict the pollution within the breathing zone. This again doesn’t help us in improving air quality levels.

Always Remember,

While we are worried about the greenhouse effect, just planting more trees or investing in indoor plants won’t solve our problem. Plants may be able to absorb certain chemicals, gases and particulate matter from the atmosphere but the overall effect is not that significant,and carbon dioxide levels are the furthest of our problems. There is a wide range of toxic gases, compounds and particulate pollutants that pose a greater risk to us which can’t be eliminated by planting more trees. Yes, plants make our earth more livable and green. Yes, it would help us bring down global warming,but it can definitely not help as a standalone solution. If you do wish to have more trees, talk to an environmentalist and understand the kind of pollutants you are dealing with, the shape of your locality, wind direction, the source of pollution and the receptors before deciding on the kind of tree that you should plant. Trees can add color to your landscape and can make it more livable but don’t forget to read all the terms and conditions that go along with them before investing!
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