First U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson warned in September 2009 that reform of chemical regulations was coming and that bisphenol A, or BPA—a building block of many plastics—was among those that might be due for enhanced scrutiny. Then the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it had concerns about BPA and would conduct further testing of its safety in January. Now the EPA has made it official by designating BPA as a "chemical of concern" for its human health and environmental impacts.

Ultimately, such a listing might lead to BPA being regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

That also means the EPA will begin requiring testing of water for BPA levels and requiring manufacturers to provide data on its impacts to human health, the environment and wildlife. EPA will coordinate its efforts with the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences. Already, EPA estimates that more than 450,000 kilograms of BPA are released into the environment annually, out of the roughly 2.7 million kilograms produced.

But it also shows up in 93 percent of Americans, according to CDC data, and has been linked to obesity, heart disease and cancer, among other human health concerns. At least five states have banned it, most recently Wisconsin, and Canada and the European Union restrict its use. "We share FDA's concern about the potential health impacts from BPA," said Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, in a prepared statement. "Both EPA and FDA, and many other agencies are moving forward to fully assess the environmental and health impacts to ensure that the full range of BPA's possible impacts are examined."

Image: © / Martin McCarthy