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Effects of Corsi-Rosenthal boxes on indoor air contaminants: non-targeted analysis using high resolution mass spectrometry



In response to COVID-19, attention was drawn to indoor air quality and interventions to mitigate airborne COVID-19 transmission. Of developed interventions, Corsi-Rosenthal (CR) boxes, a do-it-yourself indoor air filter, may have potential co-benefits of reducing indoor air contaminant levels.


We employed non-targeted and suspect screening analysis (NTA and SSA) to detect and identify volatile and semi-volatile organic contaminants (VOCs and SVOCs) that decreased in indoor air following installation of CR boxes.


Using a natural experiment, we sampled indoor air before and during installation of CR boxes in 17 rooms inside an occupied office building. We measured VOCs and SVOCs using gas chromatography (GC) high resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) with electron ionization (EI) and liquid chromatography (LC) HRMS in negative and positive electrospray ionization (ESI). We examined area count changes during vs. before operation of the CR boxes using linear mixed models.


Transformed (log2) area counts of 71 features significantly decreased by 50-100% after CR boxes were installed (False Discovery Rate (FDR) p-value < 0.2). Of the significantly decreased features, four chemicals were identified with Level 1 confidence, 45 were putatively identified with Level 2-4 confidence, and 22 could not be identified (Level 5). Identified and putatively identified features (Level ≥4) that declined included disinfectants (n = 1), fragrance and/or food chemicals (n = 9), nitrogen-containing heterocyclic compounds (n = 4), organophosphate esters (n = 1), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (n = 8), polychlorinated biphenyls (n = 1), pesticides/herbicides/insecticides (n = 18), per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (n = 2), phthalates (n = 3), and plasticizers (n = 2).

Impact statement

  • We used SSA and NTA to demonstrate that do-it-yourself Corsi-Rosenthal boxes are an effective means for improving indoor air quality by reducing a wide range of volatile and semi-volatile organic contaminants.

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Fig. 1: Biplot of the first two principal components derived from features measured in air samples taken before and during the intervention.
Fig. 2: Changes in feature intensity during the intervention.
Fig. 3: Frequency of the types of compounds that significantly decreased (FDR p value < 0.2, >50% decrease) during CR intervention.

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Data availability

The data generated during this study can be found within the published article and its supplementary files. Supplementary information is available at the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology’s website.


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We would like to thank Emilia G. Braun and Elissia Franklin for their assistance with the field work; Kevin Travossos for providing us with detailed information about the building’s air handling system; Jim Rosenthal providing us with information about the composition of the Tex-Air filters; and Youn Kyeong Chang and Roberta De Vito for discussing statistical approaches for analyzing the data. We are grateful for funding from the Brown School of Public Health Dean’s Office and Health Equity Scholars Program. This manuscript was evaluated against the NTA Study Reporting Tool (SRT) during peer-review (Peter et al., 2021; DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.1c02621).


Funding for this work came from the Brown University School of Public Health. JMB and KM were supported by NIEHS R01 ES032386. The Thermo LC-Orbitrap MS was partially funded by NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) award CBET-1919870 to KDP.

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Authors and Affiliations



KEM—Conceptualization, Methodology, Validation, Formal analysis, Writing - Original Draft, Writing - Review & Editing, Visualization, Supervision; RED—Conceptualization, Methodology, Writing - Original Draft, Writing - Review & Editing, Visualization, Supervision, Project Administration; YL—Formal analysis, Writing - Original Draft, Writing - Review & Editing; LS—Methodology, Validation, Data Curation, Formal analysis, Writing - Original Draft, Writing - Review & Editing; SB—Methodology, Writing - Original Draft, Writing - Review & Editing; FD—Methodology, Formal analysis, Writing - Original Draft, Writing - Review & Editing; RG—Formal analysis, Writing - Original Draft, Writing - Review & Editing; NFL—Methodology, Writing - Original Draft, Writing - Review & Editing; EDW—Methodology, Writing - Original Draft, Writing - Review & Editing; KDP—Methodology, Writing - Original Draft, Writing - Review & Editing; JMB—Conceptualization, Methodology, Validation, Formal analysis, Writing - Original Draft, Writing - Review & Editing, Visualization, Supervision, Project administration, Funding acquisition.

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Correspondence to Katherine E. Manz or Joseph M. Braun.

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JB was financially compensated for his services as an expert witness for plaintiffs in litigation related to PFAS-contaminated drinking water.

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Manz, K.E., Dodson, R.E., Liu, Y. et al. Effects of Corsi-Rosenthal boxes on indoor air contaminants: non-targeted analysis using high resolution mass spectrometry. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 33, 537–547 (2023).

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