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During a normal day, the air we breathe is mostly oxygen and nitrogen - although it still contains trace amounts of harmful gasses, smoke, vapors, and dust. Fortunately, our lungs have mechanical and biological barriers that keep such contaminants from harming us. However, healthy lungs are not invincible. With repeated overexposure to toxins, these protective barriers break down, resulting in irritation, discomfort, or disease. And we may not even be aware of the damage until it is too late to recover.
Protecting workers from air contaminants can be difficult because there are so many types of contaminants and there is no single method for controlling them in all workplaces.
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Technical Manual, Section VIII: Protective Equipment,Chapter 2: Respiratory Protection
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