Most health nuts are conscious about the quality of 2-3 liters of water we drink every day. And of course, we care about the quality of our food.
But why are we not equally concerned about the quality of about 11,000 liters of air that we breathe every single day?
You’re about to learn how one small change in your home can have a dramatic effect on your productivity, mental performance, and longevity.
Environmentalist and entrepreneur Kamal Meattle has revolutionized green architecture by transforming his New Delhi office building into the template for future clean-air facilities. The surprising mechanism behind his innovation? House plants.
On this show, you’re going to learn:
- How to upgrade your brain with oxygen
- The link between air pollution and heart disease
- How to rewild your work environment
- Why you (might) fall asleep during lectures
- How to hack your house for better air quality
- And tons more!
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KAMAL MEATTLE: HOW TO GROW FRESH AIR WITH HOUSE PLANTS
We’re here today with Kamal Meatle, who’s talking to us about one of the most under-appreciated aspects of health: the air we breathe.
There are more than 8 million worldwide deaths per year from air pollution. But the deadly effects of air pollution aren’t new.
In 1952, the Great Smog of London killed more than 4,000 people from pollutants released by factories and fireplaces. A few years earlier, in 1948, severe industrial air pollution created a deadly smog that asphyxiated 20 people in Donora, Pennsylvania, and made 7,000 more sick.
But most people don’t realize that Indoor air is about 10 times more polluted that ambient (outdoor) air. And we spend 90% of our time indoors.
Pollution can have a massive impact on children, preventing the development of their lungs and brain. A recent study looks at how unborn children exposed to high levels of pollutants in car exhaust are five times more likely to develop an attention disorder by age 9.
Air pollution can also accelerate aging. Procter & Gamble recently released a report indicating that polluted air can contain over 200 chemicals that age the skin. And in a recent study on women’s health, air pollution from city life added as much as 10 percent to perceived aging.
In this show, we’ll show you a remarkable method a CEO and environmentalist from India uses to improve the quality of our air.
Abel: Kamal Meattle is an environmentalist and entrepreneur with a vision to reshape commercial building in India using principles of green architecture and sustainable upkeep (including an air-cleaning system that involves massive banks of plants instead of massive banks of HVAC equipment).
After becoming allergic to New Delhi’s polluted air, Kamal discovered that by using three common houseplants one could grow fresh air, further reducing indoor air pollution. Kamal also spoke about this innovation at the TED conference. His TED Talk titled “How to Grow Fresh Air” has been viewed by over two and a quarter million people.
About 23 years ago, you became allergic to New Delhi’s air. Your lung capacity was at 70%. What happened and what were some of the symptoms you noticed?
About 23 years ago, I had respiratory issues due to New Delhi’s pollution levels, especially the Benzene in Delhi’s air which was in excess of 1,500 ppm.
My lungs’ capacity had dropped significantly, causing chest congestion, and breathing problems. I was on inhalers and anti-allergy puffs.
Living in New Delhi with these issues was nearly impossible for me as the pollution was soaring. Doctors asked me to leave the country.
Abel: Instead of leaving New Delhi like your doctors suggested, you stayed. Why?
Leaving Delhi was not an idea that I was comfortable with. I would need to begin a new life elsewhere. I decided to stay and find a solution.
At the time, I was a member of the Governing Board of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) New Delhi. I went to a board meeting of the institute and said, “You guys are learned senior scientists. I am in trouble. Please help me.”
The director sent heads of all the departments to do a round table meeting. They started thinking about various ways to clean the air and we found qualified graduate students to help with some research, which lead us to NASA’s use of green plants as part of their experiment to place people on the moon.
But all of that information was classified.
Together with help from IIT and Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI), we began to do research and found three common plants that could do the work of cleaning up the air including removing VOC’s.
After researching a lot and conducting experiments, we found a frugal solution. This idea and solution is validated by the NASA report of Dr. Bill Wolverton that was published later.
TERI air tested Delhi over the course of 12 months, in all seasons, at different levels. Indoor and outdoor. In that study we found the Benzene levels in Delhi to be 1600 – 1800 parts per million. Anything over 30 is carcinogenic.
HOW AIR QUALITY AFFECTS HEALTH
Abel: Air quality is one of the most important factors that dictate overall health or disease. What do people need to know about how the air they breathe affects them?
One can stay alive for weeks without food, for a few days without water, but not more than a few minutes without breathing.
Now the question is: Breathing what? Air or with it, the Pollutants: PM 1, 25, Ozone and VOC’s?
We are conscious about the quality of 2-3 liters of water that we drink every day. Why are we not equally concerned about the quality of 11,000 liters of air that we breathe each day?Air pollution is deadly, but it is invisible, akin to X-Ray’s. People don’t realize it is a silent killer. Click To Tweet
Being indifferent to this problem will not help anyone, as it continues to exist in many surroundings and places.
People need to change their mindset. They must be able to see what is not visible.
Air pollution or climate crisis does not discriminate between a celebrity, you or me. It spares none.Indoor air is 8 to 10 times more polluted than outdoor air. @KamalMeattle Click To Tweet
- Annual premature deaths caused by particulate air pollution have increased six times since the year 2000 – Global Burden of Diseases Report
- 27.5% under-five infant mortality is because of indoor air pollution – TERI study
Pollution has a high impact on children, preventing the development of their lungs and brain. Children in the pre-natal stage are affected the most. And the deadly pollutants like VOCs, PM 1 and 2.5, Ozone, SOx, NOx, high bacteria and fungus levels, never let one be healthy, indoors or outdoors!
And we spend 90% of our time indoors.
Breathing in oxygen has direct correlation with brain functionality.
A human brain weighs only 2% of our body’s weight, but takes in 20% of total oxygen supplied to the body. As compared with other cells, our brain cells are extremely sensitive to the availability of oxygen, deprived of which they quickly begin to die.
Additionally, the deficiency of good air quality can lead to an array of health hazards like headaches, lung impairment, asthma, eye irritation, COPD, cardiac arrests and more.
As per a recent WHO report, India accounts for 1.3 million deaths annually due to indoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution is the second highest killer in India after blood pressure, as per Global Burden of Diseases report.
High PM (1, 2.5 & 10) and Ozone levels are affecting the health and life of Delhi’s inhabitants to an extent that makes it unfit for living between the National Festivals of Diwali in November and Holi in March each year.
We cannot control the ambient air pollution, but we can take measures to curb the level of air pollution indoors.
If we fix our air quality indoors, then we will be able to gain a respite and rest from fighting against the outdoor air pollution.
Hence, it is imperative that we pay attention to the quality of air we are breathing indoors.
OXYGEN AND THE BRAIN
Abel: This is important for health and cognition. You forwarded me a study today that’s fascinating. It talks about the effects of the air you breathe, especially indoors.
Indoor air is 8 – 10 times more polluted than outside air. Bacteria, fungus, hair, skin, emissions from carpet, screens, plastic, paper, and clocks are inside. You want to get in fresh air so that you dilute the inside air and make it fresher. Inside air is bad. That’s the general the principle.
When CO2 levels rise, your brain gives the signal to slow down. A fast computer chip becomes a slow chip and you reduce energy spending by way of brain power.
Sometimes you see large public places not properly ventilated. When you watch a speaker in those space, a half hour in you feel drowsy. Then you drink caffeine and your blood starts circulating again.
You want CO2 as close to ambient (outdoor) levels as possible. Below ambient is still better. Where is low CO2? Up in the mountains where there are more trees, fewer people, fewer buildings, and fewer cars.
If you wish to have a healthy building outside of those places, you need to grow oxygen inside the building.
We had the Central Pollution Control Board and the National Cancer Institute in India do a 2 year study on our building and it’s occupants around 2007, published in 2008. The results were:
- Reduction of 54% on respiratory system of upper and lower lung function
- 9% reduction in asthma
- 24% reduction in headaches
- 52% in eye irritation
We found that in our building, the blood oxygen levels went up for people age 40 plus, but 25 year olds were benefitting by a higher increase in blood oxygen level if they hung around in the building 8 – 12 hours. Their blood oxygen level went up 2%.
A new study in October released by Harvard talks about cognitive abilities. It found that when CO2 levels lowered, the cognitive scores were 101% higher than in other buildings.
HOW TO REDUCE TO INDOOR AIR POLLUTION
We have developed an easy and replicable solution. We have picked three common houseplants adapted to local environment that are extremely helpful in detoxifying indoor air and enriching it with oxygen.
These miracle doers are: Money Plant, Areca Palm and Mother-in-Law’s Tongue.
The first two plants produce oxygen during day time and the latter produces oxygen during night time, for which it is known as a bedroom plant. Money plant is very effective in removing VOC’s.
Abel: This year, it was reported that air pollution causes 4,400 deaths in China every single day, and China and India are reported to have the worst pollution in the world.
Of the total 8 million worldwide deaths per year from air pollution, over half are said to have been caused from indoor air pollution. People still don’t seem to be discussing air quality.
What have you discovered in your research that can help clean indoor air where people are spending most of their time?
Air Pollution has become epidemic in most of the countries, even though India tops the charts and Beijing too has a huge footprint of the same.
But worldwide, it is shaping up as a huge threat for human health, in fact human survival, considering the amount of deaths that are taking place across the globe due to air pollution.
As I just mentioned, there are three common plants that help in cleansing the indoor air. However, as a lot of people share their concern about space constraint for keeping plants in appropriate numbers to have effective results, we have come up with a combo package.
This combo package combines plants and mechanical air purifiers to create healthy indoor environment.
A lot of air purifiers are available in the market but many emit harmful Ozone.
We have tested over 36 different models of air purifiers available in the Indian market. However, 50% of them are “harmful” as they emit Ozone and the other 50% are at varying degrees of efficiency. Only a few of them passed our rigorous tests in Indian conditions.
We spend a majority of our time indoors- be it at home or office.
And, at home we spend majority of time in our bedroom. Breathing clean, detoxified and oxygenated air while sleeping can help one alleviate his or her lung and mind capabilities.
The fresh air is good in most places, so you can open the windows and let the ambient air flow in. At night, when you close windows or when it’s too cold to keep them open, you need plants to reduce the CO2 levels.You need plants to reduce the CO2 levels. There’s no other way. @KamalMeattle Click To Tweet
SIMPLE HACKS FOR CLEANER AT AT HOME AND AT WORK
Abel: What can people do to improve the quality of their air at home and at work?
People can do a lot to improve air quality indoors at work and at home, and stay healthy.
- Start keeping air-purifying plants indoors.
- 4 shoulder-high Areca Palm are required for one person
- 6-8 waist-high Snake Plant
- Money plant, one can keep as many as possible (these are really helpful in removing VOCs from indoor air)
These plants have to be maintained properly. Their leaves have to be cleaned regularly so that the plants are able to perform photosynthesis efficiently to produce oxygen. Required amount of sunlight should be provided to the plants
Plants should be grown in vermiculture soil which is sterile or in hydroponic tubs to make sure that they do not emit bacteria and fungus indoors.
If grown in our patented special planters in hydroponics, they become more efficient in cleansing the indoor air and in producing more oxygen.
Here are some more ideas for ways to improve air quality:
- Space can be a constraint, but instead of opting only for the mechanical solutions for detoxifying indoor air, one should take a holistic approach of purifying air by combining the utility of plants with the air purifiers
- Correct and tested air purifiers with the right-kind of filters should be used
- Use of furniture that emits low VOCs
- Use green seal or green guard certified housekeeping and cleaning chemicals.
- When going outside in highly polluted cities wear a mask with a PM 2.5 filter
- Perform breathing exercises regularly
- Gargle at least twice a day with salt lukewarm water – this is doable in home as well as in office
- Drink a lot of water and other fluids to keep the nostrils moist
- Keep your nostrils soft with oil
- Do carpooling or opt for public transport to commute – to or from work
- Get your vehicle’s pollution level checked periodically
- Make others aware of the air pollution and its impact on one’s health
If you have pets in your house, then you have to take additional care as allergens like hair, insect body parts and dust mites can all contribute to poor indoor air. Pet dander greatly affects air quality inside. They emit allergy-producing proteins through their saliva, feces, sweat, and urine.The cumulative effect of these plus other contaminants (pollen, cigarette smoke, dust mites, lead, etc.), in fact, create conditions inside the home that are often more toxic than conditions found outdoors.
15% of all Americans are allergic to dogs or cats; about 1/3 of people diagnosed as having a pet allergy remain pet owners anyway; most of the people advised by physicians to give up a pet refuse to do so; there are more than 100 million pets in the USA.
Most importantly, keep your house livable or breathe-worthy for your pets as well. Animals have heightened sensitivity to the foreign particles. When pets are constantly exposed to Polluted air, there is likelihood that nose and throat ailments, asthma and bronchitis, may also happen to them.
INSIDE A CLEAN-AIR OFFICE BUILDING
Abel: As CEO of a business center in New Delhi, what does the inside of your office building look like?
Though Paharpur Business Centre runs with a business centre concept, yet it mimics nature.
It is a building that cares for the Health and Wellness of its occupants, designed and planned in a manner that showcases its care towards the environment and people.
With an objective to ensure that health and wellness quotient is maintained at work, we have taken a biophilic approach to sustainability.
It is an old retrofitted, 59,200 sq ft stand-alone building that is USGBC LEED Platinum certified.
It is located in the heart of one of the commercial hubs of South New Delhi, which has a footfall of 100,000 people every day.
The area surrounding the building accounts for high count of PM (2.5 and 10) levels, SOx and NOx, VOC’s, Ozone and more.
We have been able to create a microclimate inside and outside the building that helps in growing its own fresh air, indoors in the smoggy environment.
Our building has more than 1,200 air-purifying indoor plants and two waterfalls. We have placed plants strategically everywhere in the building (in the work areas, common areas- waiting lounge, reading lounge, lift lobby etc.).
Based on the occupancy level, we have placed plants accordingly.
We have a Green House, also known as the lungs of our building, on the rooftop which shelters 400 air-purifying plants that are grown in hydroponics.
- We use only old teak wood furniture as they emit near zero VOCs – tested by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
- The carpets that we use emit low VOCs.
- We use Greenguard certified housekeeping chemicals for the upkeep of the business centre.
- Our Indoor Air Quality system is integrated with HVAC/ central air conditioning system.
- As far as micro-climate outdoors is concerned, we created it by relocating slum to a different place, and planting approximately 2,000 plants in the same area. Till date it is the only green patch in our location.
- We have maintained positive air pressure inside the building.
We offer serviced space for offices and conferences in mountain fresh ambiance. The air is as fresh as one would get in the mountains like Gulmarg, Kashmir or experiences in Davos, Switzerland.
Our IAQ conforms to USA ASHRAE specified guidelines.
It is due to our good and healthy indoor air quality that we have become the first building outside Australia to get the NABERS certification for good environment quality and CETEC 5 Palm rating for being first Indian operational building that is healthy and sustainable.
- Our entire building is LED lights driven and runs on Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) 5-star rated electrical appliances.
- The building is enveloped with white mesh that prevents solar radiation from entering into the building.
- We practice segregating waste at its origin and have placed different bins for different kinds of waste.
- Whatever amount of organic waste goes into the food waste bin, we convert it into vermi-manure as we have a vermin-compost pit in our premises. The same vermi manure is used for growing plants indoors. Plastic and paper waste is recycled.
- On a daily basis, we monitor the air quality outdoors and inside PBC and publish the results on our website to let people know about the positive impact of such simple solutions.
The entire building of PBC looks like a Mini-Nature Lab which is a perfect fit for work.
A lot of people have termed it as a Unique Experience Centre in the country.
On the ground floor we have an in-house multi-cuisine restaurant, “Café Einstein” which is also known as Green Café. The café has approximately 30 hydrophones and has CO2 levels less than the Ambient, for part of the day. This is achieved elsewhere only in Las Vegas, when sometimes oxygen is pumped into the building to keep people fresh and awake all night.
We encourage people not to wear perfume in the building because it emits VOC’s, and no-one eats food inside the building. You can have meals and drinks in the Cafe or in the designated dining area where you can bring your own food to eat. The air in these areas is not recirculated. This helps keep the building clean and free from mice and insects, so we don’t need to bring in chemicals to eradicate pests.
Some years ago, a national lab came and tested the air quality and found it to be excellent, especially because the outside environment here is so bad.
Abel: It’s not just improving the air, it’s improving your habits. If you want to be focused on your health and productivity, you shouldn’t eat at your desk anyway. You should focus your attention on one thing at a time.
A lot of people working in offices are getting brain fog, headaches, and eye irritation. Do you see your building as a template for and the future of green building?
Yes. Certified green buildings like ours is like getting a high school degree. We are now working toward the WELL certification.
The Delos WELL building certification takes care of mind, comfort, fitness, light, nourishment, water, and air. There are standards for each one of these. When you look at a holistic approach, countries like Bhutan measure gross national happiness.
How can you measure the gross national happiness of clients or customers or occupants and at the same time make them more productive, healthy, and for the CFO- save money? That’s a winning combination.
Abel: If you want people to work at their highest levels of productivity, you need to make sure you nurture an environment that makes sure they’re breathing the best air and eating the best food. Would you mind going over a little bit of data?
Delhi is the world’s most polluted city. PM 25’s are particles which enter your bloodstream through your lungs. The surface area of your lungs could be the size of a tennis court. All the capillaries and all the tubes along with all the surface area is huge, that’s how lungs absorb oxygen and pump it into the bloodstream.
Bone marrow produces aldea macrophage via normal immune system function through the bloodstream, and it grabs these PM 25 particles and sticks them to your arteries. You can be just drinking mineral water and have blockage in your arteries and need stints if you’re breathing polluted air.
Abel: Can plants really clean the air? How can we measure the impact plants are having on our air?
Plants are extremely helpful in cleaning the air, provided they are maintained and taken care of.
If you want to measure the impact of natural air-purification through plants, then you take the following measures:
- Measure your air quality with a mechanical monitor that gives you accurate readings of the pollutants
- The easiest way to do so is to measure your saturated Blood Oxygen Level known as SPO2.
- You can measure it with the help of a Pulse Oximeter that is easily available.
- If your readings are below 95 percent then one needs to take care of his or her health lungs – by visiting a doctor and practicing some breathing exercises
We have witnessed the results of having plants at the core strategy level for cleaning indoor air and have been reaping benefits for more than 2 decades now.
We grow these plants in special patented hydroponic planters which are > 4 times more efficient than the plants that are grown by practicing conventional ways of gardening.
By keeping these plants, we ensure that there is a constant supply of oxygen in the air.
Central Pollution Control Board, Government of India and Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, Kolkata, India, have rated our office building – Paharpur Business Centre (PBC), as one of the healthiest ready-to-move-in office building in Delhi-NCR, India.
They had conducted a two-year intensive study in the building.
These are the results of the study done by these two prominent organizations.
- These plants have helped PBC in lowering the instances of eye irritation by 52%, respiratory symptoms by 34%, headaches by 12%, lung impairment by 24% and asthma by 9% in the building, as tested by CPCB, GOI, India and The Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, Kolkata, India.
- There is a 15 – 20% enhancement in productivity level too, as a result of good health and fewer sick days.
- It has also been found that there is a 42% probability of one’s Saturated Blood Oxygen level going up by 1% if one was inside the PBC building for about 10 hours inside PBC in a Pollution free and Oxygen rich Indoor Air environment.
Abel: What are you currently working on?
Currently, we are working on two major projects:
- Expansion of Breathe Easy, a business vertical of our company that helps finds solutions for people outside our premises.
- Getting our building Delos WELL certified
As people started approaching us with their concerns about air pollution, and wished to find solutions for their homes and offices, we decided to take this bio-technology to the next level as it was with us, and solely for our building’s usage, by then.
In 2013, we established a new vertical named “Breathe Easy” (an IAQ arm of PBC) which helps schools, hospitals, corporate houses/ commercial buildings as well as homes in breathing clean and oxygenated air.
So far, this division has provided its services to over 1,500 homes in Delhi-NCR, American Embassy School, The German School, and many more.
We are planning to expand its services to different cities, in fact different countries. Under its umbrella, we have helped establish an NGO called as “Clean Air”.
Secondly, we are aspiring for Delos WELL building certification that looks at Human Experience in a building by taking a holistic approach. It looks at different parameters like Air, water, Health, Nutrition, Mind, Light and Comfort.
If we make it, then we will become the first building in India to have Delos WELL building certification. This will be a proof of our consistent efforts towards maintaining health and wellness quotient at work.
Abel: How can people get involved?
People can get involved by helping themselves first, raising awareness, and spreading the word to a larger community.
We will be happy to help anyone who faces air quality related health issues.
Abel: Where can people find more about you and your work?
Indoor Air Quality is an “out-of-the-box” business model. With the help of the above mentioned common houseplants, one can replicate this technology.
You can find me on Facebook and Twitter, or email me with any questions and I will answer them as soon as possible.
You can also watch my my talk on “How To Grow Fresh Air” at the TED Conference (2009) which has been viewed by over 2 million viewers.
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Do you keep plants in your house to help purify the air you breathe? Share your clean air tips with us in the comments below.
Really interesting interview!
Thanks for the excellent info Abel. We should take part of the world’s health as we take care of ourselves and our health. Hopefully lots of people get inspired by this 🙂
All the best
Great info. Nothing substantive that I hadn’t heard before, including the NASA study, but it’s always good to get a refresher. I have one question, on topic, though. I spend all my time on the road with work; about a month at a time in one hotel then the next. How can I purify my air on the road?
Thanks for all you do,
Wow what a great interview! Where I live on Manitoulin Island the air is the freshest and it is always quite windy here. I love the fresh air and its a remedy for many ailments and minor health problems. Even if you cant get outside you can have plants and my great aunt had a ton of house plants and she lived to be 95.
Thanks again Abel.
Amit Patel says
Thank you, Abel. This information is really great. Generally at end of my day at office I feel really tired. On my way back home I start yawning a lot. It seems like my body is trying to get more oxygen. Need to keep a desk plant and see whether it works. Other alternative may be to go for a walk in garden for 15 – 20 mins after lunch. Will try and see.
But very good article. Hopefully people of delhi can make some changes in their homes.
I need the contact info of mr.kamal meattle.please share his mail details to my below mentioned email.Thank you