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The easiest distinction you could make: A dust mask, regardless of its sophistication, is a purely passive device while a respirator is an active instrument. A mask can be manufactured to eliminate common airborne particles (dust, pollen, paint specks, insulation, etc.) or enhanced to eliminate more serious particulates and even liquid hazards. Most of these are disposable respirators and are simple, low cost safety solutions.
Air purifying respirators are more complicated and provide higher level protection. Chemical respirators eliminate numerous harmful airborne materials. You can use either full face respirators or half face respirators to control these hazards. Many forms of paint also present breathing dangers and using a paint respirator can save you from both current and, often, future breathing problems. Asbestos has proven, over time, to be a very dangerous substance to humans. Asbestos respirators are available to protect removal workers better than a mere dust mask.
Using an air purifying respirator or an air supplied respirator allows the proper respirator cartridge, possibly combined with your own self contained air supply, to more actively eliminate dangerous particles, gases, fumes, or chemicals from entering your lungs. However, whether using a passive dust mask or active respirator, the object is to trap harmful substances and allow cleaner oxygen to enter your body. The “quality” of the potential hazard is the key ingredient to your decision on what level of respirator mask to use.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|