A team of researchers from Brown University’s School of Public Health, Brown’s School of Engineering and the Silent Spring Institute found that simple air filtration devices called Corsi-Rosenthal boxes are effective in reducing indoor air pollutants.
The study, which analyzed the effectiveness of Corsi-Rosenthal boxes installed at the School of Public Health to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, is the first peer-reviewed study of the boxes’ effectiveness on indoor pollutants, according to the authors. .
According to lead author Joseph Braun, associate professor of epidemiology at Brown University, the reduction is in concentrations of commonly found indoor air chemicals known to pose a risk to human health.
The findings show that an inexpensive air filter with a simple design can protect against diseases caused not only by viruses but also by chemical pollutants. This type of highly accessible public health intervention can empower community groups to take action to improve air quality and therefore their health.”
Joseph Braun, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Brown University
Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, or cubes, can be made from materials found at a hardware store: four MERV-13 filters, duct tape, a 20-inch box fan, and a cardboard box. As part of a school-wide project, the boxes were assembled by students and members of the campus community and installed in the School of Public Health as well as other buildings on the Brown University campus.
To assess the effectiveness of the cubes in removing chemicals from the air, Braun and his team compared the concentrations of semi-volatile organic compounds in the room before and during operation of the box.
The results, published in Environmental Science and Technology, showed that Corsi-Rosenthal boxes significantly reduced concentrations of several PFASs and phthalates in 17 rooms at the School of Public Health during the time they were in use (February to March 2022). PFAS, a type of synthetic chemical found in a range of products including cleaning products, textiles and wire insulation, was reduced by 40% to 60%; phthalates, commonly found in building materials and personal care products, have been reduced by 30% to 60%.
PFAS and phthalates have been linked to a variety of health problems, including asthma, reduced vaccine response, reduced birth weight, altered brain development in children, altered metabolism and some cancers, said Braun, who studies the effects of the chemicals on human health. They are also considered endocrine disrupting chemicals that can mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones. What’s more, PFASs have been linked to reduced vaccine response in children and may also increase the severity and susceptibility of adults to COVID-19.
“The reduction in PFAS and phthalates is an amazing benefit for Corsi-Rosenthal boxes,” said study co-author Robin Dodson, a research fellow at the Silent Spring Institute and an expert on indoor chemical exposures. the boxes are available, easy to manufacture and relatively inexpensive, and are currently being used on campuses and in homes across the country.”
“The Corsi-Rosenthal box was designed as a simple, cost-effective tool to promote affordable and effective air cleaning during the COVID-19 pandemic; the fact that the boxes are also effective at filtering air pollutants is a fantastic discovery,” said Richard Corsi, one of box inventors and dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Davis. “I am thrilled that researchers from Brown University and the Silent Spring Institute have identified a significant co-benefit of boxes with respect to reduced exposure to two harmful classes of indoor pollutants: PFAS and phthalates.
This sentiment was echoed by Jim Rosenthal, Corsi’s associate and CEO of Air Relief Technologies, which makes the MERV-13 filters used in Corsi-Rosenthal’s boxes.
“This exciting research showing that air filters not only reduce SARS-CoV-2-carrying particles but also reduce other indoor air pollutants could be very important as we continue to work to create cleaner and safer indoor air, Rosenthal said.
The researchers also found that the Corsi-Rosenthal boxes increase sound levels by an average of 5 decibels during the day and 10 decibels at night, which could be considered disruptive in certain environments such as classrooms. However, Braun said, the health benefits of the box probably outweigh the side effects of sound.
“Box filters make some noise,” Braun said. “But you can build them quickly for about $100 a unit with hardware store materials. Not only are they highly efficient, but they’re also scalable.”
Authors of the Brown study include Kate Manz and Kurt Pennell of the School of Engineering and Jamie Liu, Shaunessey Burks and Richa Gairola of the School of Public Health. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Link to journal:
Dodson, R.E., et al. (2022) Does the use of Corsi-Rosenthal boxes to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 also reduce airborne concentrations of PFAS and phthalates? Environmental Science and Technology. doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.2c05169.
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