It’s used almost everywhere. It’s in almost all of us. It does weird things to rodents and it may be doing weird things to us-but it’s tough to be certain. Bisphenol-A (BPA) has become a litmus test for how people view environmental health and the risks of common household chemicals-as I wrote in a long story for TIME earlier this year. The chemical has countless industrial uses, most often in the epoxy liner of cans and in plastic bottles. But BPA is also an endocrine disruptor, meaning that it has the capacity to mess with our hormones and potentially impact health-especially in developing fetuses-even at relatively low doses. (Because they can mimic hormones-which cause enormous changes in our bodies even at relatively low amounts-the dose-response relationship used to evaluate traditional toxins like lead may not work with BPA.)
Green advocates like the Environmental Working Group have pushed hard to restrict and even ban BPA, citing the potential risk to human health, while industry groups like American Chemistry Council have fought tooth and nail to keep the chemical in use, casting doubt on the animal studies that have shown harm from BPA. In the U.S. so far the result has been something of a stalemate-public worry about BPA is definitely on the rise, especially in the media, and professional groups like the Endocrine Society have raised their own warnings about the chemical, but there’s been no real change in regulation yet from the U.S. government.
Beyond our borders, however, governments are swinging into action. Yesterday Canada-with very little fanfare-declared BPA a toxic substance, both to the environment and to public health. The listing doesn’t mean that all BPA will need to be banned immediately-Canadian officials said that the declaration would be the first in a multi-step process to better regulate BPA. By listing the chemical as toxic, it’s easier for officials to ban the use of BPA in specific products through regulations, rather than amending laws or writing new legislation. Canada has already banned BPA in baby bottles, and this new listing will likely bring an end to food-related uses for BPA, in bottles and possibly cans as well.