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The US Environmental Protection Agency released rules yesterday requiring public water utilities to remove six common "forever chemicals" from the water supply within five years. The mandate is the first nationwide regulation of the ubiquitous substances found in dental floss, athletic clothing, food wrappers, and more.

PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of thousands of heat-resistant and oil- and water-repellent synthetic chemicals first developed in the early 20th century for use in textiles and fire suppression (watch overview). Studies have indicated that nondegradable polymers build up in humans and wildlife (see map), where they are linked to health risks, including cancer, hormone disruption, and weakened immune systems. Researchers believe almost every American is likely to have some PFAS buildup in their body.

The EPA will distribute $1B to the estimated 10% of the nation's 66,000 utilities likely to be required to act on the regulations. PFAS polluters have paid billions to settle lawsuits in recent years, including 3M's $10B payout in June.

Learn how to reduce PFAS exposure here

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