For a long time asbestos was thought to be a wonder-material, offering a cheap, easy way to insulate and fireproof buildings. By the early part of the 20th century, it had become the material of choice in fireproofing homes, businesses, and schools. Within years however, studies came out that showed asbestos was in fact a highly dangerous substance when inhaled, causing serious diseases like lung cancer and mesothelioma. As a result, its use has been banned or severely restricted in most developed countries, and asbestos removal has become a highly lucrative industry. For professionals and amateur asbestos removers alike, wearing an asbestos respirator when stripping it from walls and ceilings is absolutely crucial for its safe undertaking.
The reason asbestos is so dangerous is that its fibers accumulate in the lungs, causing tumors and other related problems. The general consensus among experts is that long-term moderate exposure is worse for one's health than even short-term, high degrees of exposure. For career asbestos removers, therefore, exposure to asbestos should be restricted in duration, regardless of the protection worn. The important thing to remember when it comes to asbestos respirator use is that even the best, most expensive models are only designed to provide limited protection.
The types of asbestos respirator on the market can be divided into two broad categories — half-mask and full-mask. The decision on which to use depends largely on the job at hand. If only a small amount of asbestos removal is required, or in cases where the asbestos has already been physically removed from the walls or ceilings and just needs to be shifted or vacuumed up, a half-mask design will usually suffice.
For actual removal of asbestos, or extended exposure to the material for another reason, a full-mask asbestos becomes necessary. Half-masks provide about half the protection of full masks, and also cost roughly a quarter of the price. When it comes to avoiding exposure, the cost of safety equipment should be low on the list of priorities, however.
Though probably the single most important element, an asbestos respirator is still only part of the equation when it comes to protecting oneself when removing asbestos. Protective eyewear, preferably wrap-around goggles, should be worn at all times when working at an asbestos site. In addition, hooded coveralls are the best way to prevent contamination of personal clothing. A work site, if it is a single room or series of rooms, should be segregated from other areas with ceiling-to-floor length plastic sheets to ensure there is no spread of this dangerous material.