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The gas mask is a mask used to protect the user from inhaling airborne pollutants and toxic gases. The mask forms a sealed cover over the nose and mouth, but may also cover the eyes and other vulnerable soft tissues of the face. Some gas masks are also respirators, though the word gas mask is often used to refer to military equipment (e.g. field protective mask). The user of the gas mask is not protected from gas that the skin can absorb. Most gas mask filters will last around 24 hours in a nuclear biological chemical (NBC) situation.
Airborne toxic materials may be gaseous (for example, sulfur mustard and chlorine gas) or particulates (such as biological agents). Many gas masks include protection from both types. Gas masks are used in construction to protect against welding fumes, in demolition to protect against asbestos or other hazardous particles, and in the chemical industry when handling hazardous materials, as in making repairs to leaking equipment or cleaning up after spills; workers are usually issued gas masks as a precaution against leaks.
During demonstrations and protests where tear gas or CS-gas is employed by riot police, gas masks are commonly used by police and demonstrators alike. Aside from serving their functional purposes, gas masks are also used as emblems in industrial music, with the most notable example, the subgenre of drum and bass called neurofunk. These emblems are used by graffiti taggers because the mask protects them from the paint canister's toxic fumes, and by urban explorers venturing into environments where hazardous materials, such as asbestos, may be present.
The traditional gas mask style with two small circular eye windows originated when the only suitable material for these eye windows was glass or acrylic; as glass is notoriously brittle, glass eye windows had to be kept small and thick. Later, the discovery of polycarbonate allowed for gas masks with a large full-face window. Some have one or two filters attached to the face mask while others have a large filter connected to the face mask with a hose, that is sometimes confused with respirators
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