How a DIY air cleaner with Fort Worth roots can help during wildfire season

With wildfire smoke blanketing much of the upper U.S., Americans searching for a way to avoid the toxic air can turn to a DIY air purifier with Cowtown roots.

Canadian wildfires have brought three days of smoke to the upper Midwest and the Northeast. Although North Texas is not experiencing smoke from wildfires, the region is still facing a summer with low air quality days.

Wildfire smoke contains tiny particles known as PM 2.5, which can cause a range of negative health effects when inhaled. PM 2.5 can also come from vehicle emotions or other industrial activity. So while Fort Worth isn’t currently experiencing wildfire smoke, it still has elevated levels of PM 2.5.

To clean the air of any type of particulate matter, whether it be from wildfire smoke or traffic emissions, an air cleaner called the Corsi-Rosenthal box can filter the air in your home or workspace and make it safer to breathe. The box takes its name from its inventors: Dr. Richard Corsi, the dean of the engineering school at the University of California, Davis, and Jim Rosenthal, a Fort Worth resident and the CEO of Tex-Air Filters.

Coris and Rosenthal designed the box in 2020, as a growing body of research confirmed that SARS-CoV-2 particles can spread easily through the air. After Rosenthal and Corsi finalized the design and published instructions online, the invention took off. People throughout the world built Corsi-Rosenthal boxes for an extra layer of protection, posting pictures of the boxes everywhere from elementary schools in Brooklyn to classrooms at the Brown School of Public Health in Rhode Island.

Because the box is capable of trapping tiny particles of virus, it’s also able to trap the much larger particles that come with wildfire smoke and other types of pollution.

The box itself requires only a few things to assemble: A standard box fan; the box the fan comes in, to make a shroud; four air filters with a MERV 13 rating or higher; and duct tape. Any brand of air filter will work, although it should have a rating of MERV 13 or higher. Lower ratings will be less effective.

Rosenthal demonstrated how to build the box for the Star-Telegram in 2022.

Although the do-it-yourself box has largely been made by amateurs who find instructions online, a growing body of research has confirmed that the box’s design is effective at reducing particles in the air, whether it’s tiny respiratory particles that contain pieces of the SARS-CoV-2 virus or larger particles that make up wildfire smoke.

On Thursday afternoon, the Fort Worth area was experiencing “moderate” air quality, meaning that it’s OK for most people to be outside, but people with certain health conditions should take extra precautions. June and July are usually the most polluted months of the year in Fort Worth.