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CDC, EPA: Little risk to public from sites

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The bodies of the victims of Tuesday's terror attacks in New York and Washington pose no substantial health risk to the public, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

It advises, however, that people involved in recovery efforts adhere to standard precautions, such as wearing gloves.

Decaying bodies probably pose less of a threat than other issues, such as asbestos, said Dr. Paul Dungen, head of the Oklahoma City Health Department. He was with the department during the bombing of the federal building there.

As tissue decays, he said, certain chemicals are produced that inhibit the formation of disease.

Dungen said after the Oklahoma City bombing, "hygiene police" were stationed at the site to make sure precautions were taken by rescue workers.

A group of doctors from the National Medical Response Team has been sent to New York City, but their mission, according to officials, is to assess the risk to crews from exposure to industrial substances.

The experts will look for the presence of chemicals that may have been stored in the World Trade Center complex, or hazardous materials, including asbestos, that may have been released as the buildings were destroyed.

There may also be substances such as unburned jet fuel that may have come from the two hijacked jetliners terrorists piloted into the buildings.

In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took air samples Tuesday after the collapse of Manhattan's World Trade Center. Three air samples were taken downwind in Brooklyn, across the East River from Manhattan, said Dave Deegan, an EPA spokesman. A non-air sample was taken in downtown Manhattan near the disaster site.

"Apparently, those did not show any elevated level of concern, especially for asbestos, in the dust," he said of the Brooklyn samples.

The Manhattan sample did show "somewhat elevated levels of asbestos," he said. The tests found levels at about 4.5 percent, while safety standards are 1 percent or less.

"So (it's) not a huge spike, but higher than normal levels," he said.

Deegan cautioned that workers in the disaster site should continue using dust masks and respirators and keeping the debris wet to reduce particulates in the air.

"For people who have respiratory problems, it definitely is a concern," Deegan said. "It can trigger an asthma attack."

He wasn't sure if there has been much analysis of the site to see if hazardous materials are present, saying "the first order of business is simply to see if there are any lives that can still be saved."

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