Bisphenol-a, or BPA, can be found in most food and beverage containers. Mainly used in the production of plastics, such as water bottles, sunglasses and computer cases, the chemical has been blamed for accelerating puberty; increasing the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes in adults; and harmfully affecting brain development and behavior in fetuses and young children. Still, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says BPA levels in American products are safe. Several states, however, disagree.

Since 2009, a handful of states have passed laws banning BPA in consumer products. Minnesota and Connecticut became the first states to pass legislation banning the chemical. Minnesota’s law prohibits BPA in spill-proof cups and baby bottles, while Connecticut’s law includes a ban on its use in cans, jars and reusable food and beverage containers. In 2010, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin banned BPA from young children’s products. Also in 2010, Vermont and Washington state passed similar but more aggressive legislation that bans BPA in sports bottles, and reusable food and beverage containers.

Although the FDA acknowledges that some recent studies demonstrate a correlation between BPA exposure and health complications in young children, the agency also cites uncertainties with some research methods. While the FDA is in the process of reviewing additional BPA-related studies, federal officials have yet to declare any bans on the chemical’s use in consumer products, and currently recommend that families not worry about the chemical’s presence in products.

Even before this wave of state BPA bans, some governments had already taken steps to remove the chemical from products. In 2008, Canada became the first country to ban BPA in baby bottles. Chicago followed suit in 2009 by banning the sale of baby bottles and spill-proof cups produced with traces of BPA.

However, not all states have been successful in passing such laws. Last year, bills to ban BPA failed to gain Senate approval in California and Oregon. Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, campaign director at the Washington Toxics Coalition, blames the chemical industry. "The chemical industry is really good at questioning the science around BPA," she says. "And they’re really good at using their industry experts to confuse the issue." Some arguments against such bans also question the availability of alternative, BPA-free products. According to Sager-Rosenthal, certain states have answered by initiating programs to identify or develop safer alternatives.

More states are expected to ban the chemical from consumer products this year, but advocates hope to see action taken at the federal level instead. "Eventually Congress is going to have to act and find a national solution," says Sager-Rosenthal. "Not just for BPA and baby bottles, but for all chemicals in products."