Tantramar Council ends air filter saga by nixing $3200 grant

Dave Thomas, third from left, helps build a Corsi-Rosenthal box at the Sackville Commons. (Photo: Shoshanna Wingate)

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.

A Corsi-Rosenthal box at Sackville’s Visitor Information Centre

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.

Richard Corsi in 2022. (Wikipedia Photo: UC Davis College of Engineering)

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.

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18 Responses to Tantramar Council ends air filter saga by nixing $3200 grant

  1. Shame on our council and shame on small-town, small-minded thinking. If we cannot accept pragmatic and affordable ways to mitigate the transmission of airborne pathogens like SARS-CoV-2 then what chance do we have of this Council addressing climate change? As for the argument that CR Boxes are a landfill issue, just drive around town when our clear bags — destined for the landfill — are at the curb.

    A CR Box, made using the cardboard box that the fan comes in, has its filters replaced once per year, less frequently than many home furnace filters. This is not a landfill issue, nor a safety (CSA approval) issue. This should never have even been discussed by Council.

    Renaissance Sackville has provided small seed funding to many projects in town over the decades. Some were successful, like the community garden, and others were not. But we were willing to experiment (at low costs like $3,200) and take small risks. The risks of this project are close to zero. The risks of Council meddling in projects beneath their mandate — infinite.

  2. Jon Osborne says:

    This is black mark on this council and shows a real lack of supporting grassroots initiatives from the community. Clearly they have no motivation to be informed on the issues since they did not even bother to speak to the applicant. The members who voted against will be responsible for not doing what they can to reduce illness and disease in this community.

  3. Carol says:

    Badly done Town Council.

  4. S.A. Cunliffe says:

    Enjoyed watching them shut down the grabblers – sometimes they get it right here.
    Ronnie managed to get over $35K for a new deck at our tourist centre that is not in need of replacement so he’s still a concern when it comes to wreckless spending.. and who can forget that $3000+ for his wife Patty’s sewing club.. masterful stuff Ronnie.
    The money that’s thrown around here for different pet projects is really something.

  5. Dodie Perkin says:

    This is extremely disappointing. Not only did councillors not do adequate research for themselves, or even ask Dave to come and answer their questions in person, they are showing a lack of support for a group of caring citizens who are actually trying to make life better and healthier in our community spaces. You should be completely ashamed of yourselves. Harold is right. This is a small-minded decision based on ignorance, pure and simple.

  6. Ken says:

    Good decision by town council! Tax payer money must always be scrutinized no matter the amount. Indeed it is a small amount of money. If those that believe in this project are so certain. Raise the funds yourself. You could start by selling those masks you all wear so proudly.

    • Chris says:

      Renaissance has given to lots of prospective start ups, community ventures, art programs and others that you will never have realized. Being on the board for a number of years (5 maybe?) up until its now dissolution, I’m pretty proud of what was done. We have had university reps, not for profit reps, business owners, general residents, all stripes of the community sit on the board that oversaw those grants. I think the CR project was in the best interest of the community, and I say this as someone who built two and have them in my business because beyond just potentially helping keep the community safe, it can help avoid staff illness which costs a business money (or in the case the of the not-for-profits potentially volunteer capacity). Ken, you can make this out to be a culture war thing if you feel like it, but you’re just simply wrongheaded here.

  7. Ryan Murphy says:

    It is unfortunate that in a community with such passionate and well-informed citizens, home to a university that through both policy and procedure had some of the most inclusive and protective mitigation measures through the first years of the pandemic, and which has received international attention from clean air experts and advocates alike, misinformed councilors have quashed a program to protect their own citizens for reasons that simply cannot justify their ignorance.

    The electrical components of these devices are all commercially produced, and receive appropriate CSA / ETL approvals. No electrical parts are modified, and the addition of duct tape to the metal casing has no voiding-effect on those certifications.

    The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) commissioned Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (a certifying authority like CSA; their Canadian branch, Underwriters Laboratories of Canada, is nationally recognized to signify compliance with Canadian standards) to study the safety of various box fans used in the construction of Corsi-Rosenthal boxes. Their findings noted that across all testing, fire ignition was not achieved, even when filters were directly applied to both the front and back of the fan; filters did not influence current, resistance or power applied to the fan; and temperatures at the guard, switch, and output air were near or lower than ambient room air temperature. That report is available here:


    And as for the “iffy”-ness of the PoPNB group: hogwash. A collection of New Brunswickers have found like-minded folks around the province and worked tirelessly to educate and protect their fellow citizens – without compensation, and often at their own expense. They have given thousands of hours and thousands of dollars – for the betterment of the province.

    Members have been interviewed by provincial media, who recognize the contributions they make. They have been acknowledged on the floor of the Legislative Assembly for their educational and advocacy efforts.

    And most recently, they have presented at an international Clean Air Expo, alongside
    • Jim Rosenthal, Chairman & CEO of Air Relief Technologies, Inc, and namesake of the Corsi-Rosenthal box
    • Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, epidemiologist and health economist, and member of the Covid-19 mortality expert committee for WHO
    • Prof. Lidia Morawska, Director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health (ILAQH) at QUT, a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre on Air Quality and Health
    • Dr. Stephane Bilodeau, Adjunct Professor of Bioengineering at McGill University and Independent International Contractor for the United Nations Office of Project Services
    • William P. Bahnfleh, Ph.D., P.E., Fellow/Presidential Member ASHRAE, and chair of the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force
    • Jose-Luiz Jimenez, a Professor of Chemistry and a Fellow of CIRES at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and researcher on superspreading events and historical roots of denial of airborne transmission
    • Maryann D’Alessandro, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL)

    …and two New Brunswick parents (both graduates of Mount Allison!), who have gained international attention for work on the importance of clean air, and a collective desire to make our province a safer place.

    Sackville has, for decades, been a place where people were enlightened, and could feel safe, and should be proud. Apparently, that has changed. Town Council should be ashamed.

    • Shawn says:

      Guess who pays for a structure fire when you are operating something that is not CSA approved?
      Like always another liberal without even an unliking of a clue. The CSA is a Canadian standard stamp that ensure the product can be used safely. As soon as you modified a box fan that standard no longer exists. Mount Allison breeds the most retarded people on earth.
      Why not ask for an additional $1,000 and buy CSA APPROVED filters that already exists in hundreds of varieties.
      Why do you bag lickers need to cling to social affirmation of the greater communist good?
      We are scrapping the bottom of the barrel as a society.

      • Ryan Murphy says:

        Thank you for your intelligent and informed response. I appreciate your insight, and the time you took to write it.

        As mentioned above, the box fan is not modified – a piece of tape is attached, however.

        Did you have an issue with the research findings of Underwriters Laboratories (an authority similar to CSA), who tested identical devices under extreme conditions and found they simply could not make them overheat, or ignite? I found that study quite informative, and suggests the application of tape to a metal fan casing isn’t as dangerous as you believe.

        I wasn’t involved in the proposal, but I expect the choice of Corsi-Rosenthal box over commercial HEPA was done to provide more benefit for less investment: a CR with Lasko box fan and 4 x 1” MERV 13 provides about the same CADR as a Medify Air MA-112, at about 1/3 the cost, and generating 10dB less noise. Why clean one room when you could clean 3-or-more for the same price?

  8. Tantramar observer says:

    Seeing the names that voted « nay », besides Goguen, I am not surprised.

    The same individuals would claim having insufficient information or call upon « fiscal responsibility » as to reasons to vote negatively regarding just about any project touching on climate change, active living, EV infrastructure, covid mitigation, etc.

    After all, municipal politics is solely about roads and paving boat launches to some of these folks.

  9. Jon says:

    Sure, give a rich developer a million dollar tax break for his for-profit building (which probably generates more non-recyclable land-fill & carbon pollution in an afternoon of construction than this project generates in its entirety), and refuse a tiny grant to improve health and air quality on the grounds that it might generate a little clear-bag garbage.

    Council was fishing for excuses to reject this. A perfect demonstration of how biased and irrational council’s decision making is.

  10. Kate says:

    Despicable! It takes about 5 minutes of research to know that the filters are legit.

    • Percy Best says:

      I’m thinking that the majority of councilors probably know that this is a ‘well deserving of financial backing’ good project. Perhaps the reasons for the rejection of the request are much deeper than ‘meets the eye’. Please take a moment and check out the current status of the RENAISSANCE SACKVILLE web site for a starter.

      The last project shown is from 2016. The last event that occurred was their AGM from 2016. It would appear to anyone seeking information about them that they don’t exist anymore. Seven years is a very long time to not have any updates done to a web site.

      Accountability to the citizens that provide the financing is so very important and the town councillors were certainly left hanging on this one.

    • S.A. Cunliffe says:

      Kate: If they’re so fabulous why hasn’t this idea caught on with the general public? Why beg for money from your local government’s piggybank to fund your pet project of academically-promoted filters? Could it be that not everyone has been ‘duped’ by these fear-mongering academics? Shocking to imagine I know.

  11. Wayne Feindel says:

    In Defence of the Tantramar council they have been deliberately side tracked. Their decisions are neither bias or fact less. The New Carver Policy Governance has been part of Education and Hospital boards for over 30 years. although cursed with a jaundiced eye and bolstered with tough disbelief was caught off guard by ‘policy governance.’
    Across Canada Amalgamation and centralization of communities has delivered very little except to the provincial coffers.
    My first hint as a councilor and yours as well was that the Ward or sub-district 2 was for election purposes only. Stacy Brown the DEC manager at the time was kind enough to show me why it wasn’t good for the greater good of the school community to be bickering which was bad for the students. So when I found in the Dorchester school Gym having the SOS parents asking whose side I was on concerning ‘modernization’ ;sorry I mean ‘optimization’. Gravity wields the greater hammer and so two rural schools were to be closed. In stead of two on the same block in Moncton.
    My observation is that I can defend your general desire to make Tantramar a place to live in. But in that local school gym without being rude or violating codes put forward my local concerns strongly and unequivocally. I dealt with my fellow councilors fairly and courteously while holding up views that best represented the citizens of Tantramar. Relied on my conscience.
    There are so many things wrong here that I can only touch on a few the key changes. So you are all essantially councilors at large, which was the duty of the Mayor and as you were led to believe elected at large. The Mayor being the chief justice of the Community. That’s another story.
    Besides all the other screw ups that are know to tank community budgets your council so it seems as to adhere to the principles of ‘policy governance’.
    1. No permanent council standing committees (shall) be formed. The work will be performed by council of the whole. Now this is a break in custom and tradition of the uncodified laws {actually written} in the Federal constitution. You’ll love this, by custom the committee of the whole procedure is rarely practical in small municipalities, which Includes Fredericton and Saint John, as introducing or rewriting by-laws. That’s your job. There are some new things under the act that you are not permitted to delegate. You are legally bound to those regulations even if you have not read them or been informed.
    2 . It’s just a committee like any other .Standing or not. The trouble is the creation of committee is the assembly. Not Fredericton. And there is the Rub.
    3. The Mayor the presiding officer of regular meetings calls another to preside or council may choose its own chairperson. The mayor and the chair can still debate This eliminates the illusion that a dictator is running the committee and then reports to himself at a regular meeting.
    4. The chair would request the CAO to designate the appropriate municipal staff to assist the members in their endeavors. Where possible all raw information and pertinent facts will be made available to council at least one week before before the discussion can take place.. This is only a small part of policy governance. Most outstanding fault is in two areas. – Fiduciary and Crises. i.e. RCMP contract. MOU with Fort Folly or MOU with treasury board.
    Are you ready. There is much more. No questions or answers. The policy is not to respond to citizens in a question periods. On filter question for example, the council should not react to a handful of citizens as if they represent the whole country. Sure it makes you look responsive, but they don’t represent the greater (indefinite) good. Carver says he know your between a rock and a hard place. “I know that meeting directly with citizens is a burden” Words are important ,”I know that doing so makes you appear responsive and willing to roll your sleeves up and get involved with the systems coatomers. There you have it citizens. Twenty years ago when I was Mayor and too young for the job, similar to the Mass Mayor Black is in.
    A survivor of the Dora slave camp reminded me not to be patronizing. “I came to Canada to be a citizen, not a subject. “I found myself at the front desk faced with this. “Sorry I’m on the line with another customer.” So basically when you meet with citizen’s (not contractors) Your staff sees citizens as “inexperience sitting in judgment on experience, ignorance on knowledge.”
    You’ll need to stand as one with you Mayor and resign together and make national news to get public backing.
    Former and much maligned member of the DEC George Crossman who with a single parent are responsible for making the Department Education standardize search procedures for students.
    Before George died in January he reminded me , ” Wayne! Before you light a fire under them make sure you warm all of us.”
    Finally observation, “as you are aware, Council held a meeting last evening to consider the outstanding code of Conduct complaint made against you. ………..
    as a result you are suspended from acting…….not to represent to anyone that you are a Member in good standing of AEDEC.

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