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FDA Weighing Ban on BPA Chemical in Packaging

David McNew/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce whether to ban bisphenol A (BPA), the controversial chemical that is widely used in food packaging.

The FDA agreed to respond by March 31 to a petition filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that called for a ban on BPA as a food additive. The March 31 date was set after the NRDC sued the FDA for not responding to the petition, originally filed in 2008.

The FDA previously said that low levels of BPA are safe, but in Jan. 2010, agreed to "take reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply" based on a report from the National Toxicology Program that indicated "some concern" for effects the chemical can have on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of developing fetuses, infants and children, according to the FDA's web site.

Those steps, the agency said, included "supporting the industry's actions to stop producing BPA-containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups for the U.S. market; facilitating the development of alternatives to BPA for the linings of infant formula cans; and supporting efforts to replace BPA or minimize BPA levels in other food can linings."

BPA has been under fire from advocacy groups including the NRDC and the Breast Cancer Fund. The groups claim there is ample evidence linking the chemical to health problems, particularly among fetuses, infants and young children.

Some of the biggest forces behind the drive to ban BPA, however, are not large organizations, but are moms on a mission. They are women using the power of social media to influence policy on an issue they are passionate about.

Despite numerous concerns, there's still debate over the true effects of BPA on humans. The World Health Organization recently issued a report concluding that although a number of studies found links between low-level BPA exposure and several health effects, including a higher risk for developing mammary tumors in rats and changes in sperm quality in men, "there is considerable uncertainty in this research."

And the authors of a study published in October that found a link between prenatal BPA exposure and the development of behavior problems in children later wrote that "the clinical relevance of these findings is unclear at this point."

The American Chemistry Council called the controversy over BPA a "distraction" back in Feb. and stands by its assertion that the chemical is safe.

"Although governments around the world continue to support the safety of BPA in food contact materials, confusion about whether BPA is used in baby bottles and sippy cups has become an unnecessary distraction to consumers, legislators and state regulators," the council said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio