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Industrial and medical respirators, many of which look similar, have the same function but perform their duties differently. If your work environment involves breathing otherwise harmless airborne particles (dust, pollen, sawdust, etc.), simple disposable dust masks are usually sufficient. If you are surrounded by auto spray paint, asbestos, or lower risk medical situations, a higher grade dust respirator that has a more effective rating at eliminating airborne threats is recommended. A good respirator mask will protect against a variety of dangers faced by the wearer. For example, painting respirators are very effective in eliminating both the particles and fumes generated by spray painting projects.
Air purifying respirators are appropriate when the airborne dangers are more potent and numerous. For instance, even with all the governmental controls placed on insect control in recent years, a good pesticide respirator is important to people working around these substances. A full face respirator, while sometimes uncomfortable, provides excellent protection against airborne threats that are very pervasive.
If you face a variety of potential threats, an air purifying respirator that accepts different respirator cartridges might be the best choice. For example, your current job site indicates you need a mold respirator as the air is filled with mold spores. However, soon you will move to a site that requires you to have a pesticide respirator. 3M respirators even offer you respirator selection software to help you select the correct device for the hazards you might face. With the ability to analyze over 700 different chemicals, the software can lead you to the right respirator selection.
If the threats you face are even more serious, an air supplied respirator is often recommended. By having their own pathogen free air supply, these models, either full face or half face respirators, further ensure that your oxygen is clean. Formerly used primarily by the military and the police, these usually dual cartridge respirator designs are now often used by medical personnel in proximity to serious airborne pathogens, like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), firefighters, and emergency response personnel in dangerous situations.