Community volunteer and Mt. A. professor Dave Thomas says he’s disappointed that Tantramar Town Council has rejected his request for a $3,200 grant to build simple, indoor air filters that protect against COVID-19 and flu viruses as well as allergens and other airborne threats such as smoke from forest fires.
“Here’s a situation where a member of our community is willing to donate a lot of time and some money to try to make spaces healthier and safer for our community members and that there would be so much objection to something like that, is very surprising to me,” Thomas said today in a telephone interview.
He was commenting on the objections raised by councillors last night before a majority voted to reject the $3,200 grant that had already been approved by the independent, community development organization, Renaissance Sackville.
The 5-4 vote came after discussions at three previous meetings starting on September 25th.
In today’s interview, Thomas responded to each of the objections expressed last night:
Councillor Josh Goguen: There’s so many things that I don’t like about this application just because of the way that it’s being funded and I kind of dug into this organization and I’m kind of iffy about it to start off. And not only that, the aspect of the amount of garbage that’ll be going into the landfills because you’re adding four, kind of filters, on the side, so they’d have to be replaced. If they were coming back with saying that ‘OK, we’re adding a HEPA filter, like an actual industrial-size one that you just replace, a small filter, the footprint is smaller,’ I know it might do the same as this, but just because of that I just can’t approve it.
Dave Thomas: Protect Our Province New Brunswick is a group of advocates, or volunteers, or activists, whatever you want to call them, from all over the province of New Brunswick that have formed an ad-hoc or informal group where we tackle all kinds of things. So, one of the things we do is try to encourage the building of Corsi-Rosenthal [C-R] boxes and air filtration in general. Another thing that members of the group have done has been to make rapid [COVID] tests and masks available to people in their communities who need them and who can’t afford them. Another thing that members of the group have done is educational. So, blasting out on social media and through press releases and other ways of information for New Brunswickers about COVID, but also about indoor air quality and making our indoor air better. Another thing they’ve done is through Freedom of Information requests, they’ve found out all kinds of interesting things about the New Brunswick government’s response to COVID and tried to publicize this and let people know about it. So, it’s been an advocacy group since the beginning of COVID to try to inform and help New Brunswickers understand and grapple with the effects of COVID.
It’s true that parts of the C-R box cannot be reused or recycled and would need to go to the landfill. That’s true. The cardboard on the filter can be taken off and recycled, but parts of the filter would need to go to the landfill. For me, that’s a small price to pay for the benefits of the air filtration units if you think about all the places that are currently using either HEPA filters or furnace filters (the C-R boxes use MERV-13 furnace filters). At the university, in our schools, in our hospital, probably in some of the town’s buildings, they’re all using these filters and yes, parts of them have to be thrown out. But again, in my view that’s something worth doing in order to make sure that these indoor spaces are safe and healthy for members of our community.
Councillor Barry Hicks: I will be voting against this also. To my knowledge, these are not CSA approved. There’s not enough information on them. I will be voting against it.
Dave Thomas: It’s true, this is a do-it-yourself version of the air filtration unit. They’re not for sale in stores and so, they haven’t gone through a process of certification. But what I would say is the people who created the boxes, such as Richard Corsi, dean of engineering at the University of California, have done extensive testing on them. They’re very effective. They’re just as effective and in some cases, more effective than a quality HEPA filter you can buy at the store. This information is freely accessible online. They’re not government approved because they’re not for sale and they’re not being marketed and commercialized, but they are an effective, homemade, do-it-yourself remedy and much cheaper than commercial brands.
Councillor Bruce Phinney: I’ll be voting against it as well because I believe that actually the people who will be receiving them [the C-R- boxes] the not-for-profits as we’ve been told should be approaching whoever they’re renting from to get the landlords to do whatever they have to do to make the air quality better. And, at $80, supposedly is what they cost, I think the not-for-profits can take $80 out of their budget and buy one of these things.
Note: At their meeting on October 24, councillors were told that the C-R boxes cost $120 each and that Thomas’s group planned to build 16 new boxes and another 15 to replace existing ones.
Dave Thomas: There have been cases over the past year and a bit where I’ve worked with community organizations that have paid for the supplies themselves and I’ve just volunteered my time to come in and work with people to build them. So, it is true that in lots of cases, the group could be paying for this itself. On the other hand, there are certainly cases of organizations I’ve worked with so far, and I’m sure there’ll be more in the future, that don’t have this kind of extra money sitting around for something like this, especially if they need more than one. If they operate in a large space like the Sackville Commons, it’s a good example where for a space like that you actually need more than one, you need a few or several and for organizations that need more than one and which are on a very tight budget, this would be a way to make sure those non-profits get the boxes into their spaces and have healthier spaces for the people who use them.
Shoshanna Wingate, a board member at the Sackville Commons, has worked with Dave Thomas building C-R boxes.
She says both Corsi and Jim Rosenthal called attention to their project on Twitter giving Sackville international publicity.
“It’s a shame that council is unable to support a community project to keep the citizens of our town safe during a pandemic,” she says.
“I must ask why they did not invite Dave Thomas to present to council or answer questions,” she adds.
“It boggles the mind that councillors did not seek the input of an applicant, yet rejected the application for lack of information.”
Councillors Matt Estabrooks, Josh Goguen, Barry Hicks, Bruce Phinney and Debbie Wiggins-Colwell voted against the $3,200 grant while Mayor Andrew Black, Deputy Mayor Greg Martin and Councillors Allison Butcher and Michael Tower voted in favour.