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What rating should an asbestos mask carry?

You're at work when you find out you're going to be working around asbestos. Everyone knows in advance. They know the risk and the dangers.

Then your boss hands you a standard paper dust mask from the nearest big-box hardware store. He or she assures you that it'll be enough, that you won't breathe in the cancer-causing particles with the mask on.

But is it enough?

Probably not. Your standard, mass-produced dust mask may be fine for woodworking and things of this nature, but it's just not stopping enough to protect you from those tiny -- and yet potentially deadly -- asbestos particles.

Instead, you need a mask with built-in filters with a minimum rating of P100. These are often referred to as HEPA filters.

The ratings are called NIOSH ratings because they're handed out by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. With the P100 designation, the respirator is supposed to filter out a minimum of 99.97 percent of the particles in the air. This includes things like asbestos and lead. These filters are also very good for those working with oil.

So, what happens when your boss gives you the paper mask and tells you to get to work? You must know that you could still be in serious danger. Asbestos removal crews often wear full face masks and body suits, not just a thin mask and standard work clothes. You could still breathe in the harmful particles, even with that mask on.

If this happens and you develop respiratory issues or cancer, make sure you know your legal rights.

Source: PK Safety, "What is the Best Asbestos-Rated Respirator?," accessed March 14, 2018

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