DIY project could provide up to 20 new indoor air filter boxes to Tantramar orgs

Six white cube-like devices are pictured inside a community centre. They are arranged in two rows: three sit side-by-side on the floor, and another three sit side-by-side on a table.
Corsi-Rosenthal boxes built by volunteers at the Sackville Commons. Photo:
Erica Butler - CHMA - SackvilleNB | 10-10-2023
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A local group is hoping to get more DIY indoor air filters in spaces in Tantramar this fall and winter, and Renaissance Sackville has recommended funding a project to help.

Renaissance Sackville is an organization sponsored by the Town of Sackville to offer seed funding and administrative support for new initiatives.

At their meeting tonight, Tantramar council will vote on putting $3200 of the $25,000 Renaissance budget towards producing up to 20 new Corsi-Rosenthal boxes for indoor spaces in the municipality, and refurbishing some of the existing supply.

The boxes are a “do-it-yourself air filtration unit,” says organizer Dave Thomas, constructed from a standard box fan, four MERV-13 furnace filters, some cardboard, and duct tape.

“One of the things that we’ve learned through the pandemic is that in order to protect ourselves from getting COVID, we need layers of protection, and one of the layers of protection is [air] filtration,” says Thomas.

The Corsi-Rosenthal box is named after dean of engineering at University of California Davis, Richard Corsi, who came up with the idea, and Jim Rosenthal, the head of a filter manufacturer in Texas, who first built it. The boxes are a lower cost alternative to portable HEPA filters, which can range from $200 to $500 each for small to medium rooms, says Thomas.

Last fall, Thomas and others started helping to build the boxes for local groups like the Sackville Commons, at a cost of about $110 each, but he expects costs this year to be slightly higher. He’s planning to replace filters in roughly 10-15 boxes this year, and build up to 20 more, depending on costs.

Thomas says he’s hoping to find homes for the new boxes by reaching out to local non-profit organizations and by hosting a workshop teaching people how to built the units.

Currently the town has a Corsi-Rosenthal box in the Visitor Information Centre on Mallard Drive, a space which is available for community events, and Thomas says he’d be happy to see the town use the boxes more widely this winter.

Stale air in schools

There are two spaces in Tantramar with documented issues with indoor air quality: Dorchester Consolidated and Marshview Middle Schools. For the past three years that test results are available, the two Tantramar area schools have tested high in rates of carbon dioxide in indoor air, with peak levels over 1600 and 1900 parts per million. University of Toronto epidemiologist Colin Furness says that outdoor air usually clocks in at around 400 parts per million, and anything above 1500 parts per million he considers “stale air”.

Data from the province of New Brunswick air quality test results for school districts. Chart: Erica Butler

Both schools were due for work on ventilation systems this past summer, but a department of education spokesperson says the work is still in the design phase and was not completed due to a labour shortage of designers. The department now says the systems will be fixed by September 2024.

Thomas has long advocated for Corsi-Rosenthal boxes in schools, but the department considers the boxes “homemade air filtration” and will not allow them. Instead, the department says that since January of 2022, “all classrooms in all schools without a ventilation system were provided with portable/temporary HEPA filters”.