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EPA says air, water safe around attack sites

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The air and drinking water are safe both in New York and around the Pentagon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been monitoring levels of contaminates around the sites since last week's attacks.

"Results from our monitoring of air quality and drinking water conditions in both New York and near the Pentagon show that the public in these areas is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances," EPA Administrator Christine Whitman said Wednesday.

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"Given the scope of the tragedy from last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C., that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink," she said.

The EPA said its tests found elevated asbestos levels only within a half-block of the World Trade Center site. Other tests in the neighborhood -- for asbestos, lead and volatile organic compounds -- found the levels either undetectable or below established levels of concern for each substance.

Where asbestos levels read greater than 1 percent, the agency has brought in high efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) vacuum trucks to clean the area.

HEPA trucks also cleaned streets and sidewalks in the financial district in preparation for Monday's reopening of the markets. The EPA said it also will use HEPA trucks to clean the lobbies of five federal buildings near the World Trade Center site, and to clean the streets outside of New York's City Hall.

The EPA also found asbestos content to be below levels of concern in drinking water.

As rescue and clean-up efforts continue, the EPA will be responsible for any hazardous waste disposal and for providing facilities for many of the search and rescue workers to wash off after their shifts.

The agency is recommending debris be kept wet, to cut down on dust inhalation that can aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions.

In Washington, air and water testing around the Pentagon crash site has also shown asbestos and other contaminants to be below levels of concern. EPA says it is working with OSHA to make sure air and drinking water inside the Pentagon are safe for returning workers.

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