The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has committed to reaching a decision by March 31, 2012, on  whether to ban the use of bisphenol A in food and drink packaging.

The news was announced today by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which in 2008 filed a petition with the FDA requesting a ban on BPA, as the chemical is called, in food packaging, food containers and any material likely to come in contact with food.

BPA is typically used in hard, clear plastics. Products include reusable water bottles and food storage containers. It also is used in can linings to keep the food from being contaminated by rust.  Bisphenol A also has been found on cash register receipts. A recent Harvard University study found that people who consumed canned soup five days in a row dramatically increased levels of BPA in their urine.

But the chemical has been found to be a hormone disruptor that acts somewhat like estrogen.

Concerns have been expressed that the chemical might heighten the risk for breast cancer, but in a report released today about environmental risks for breast cancer, a panel of physicians found that studies to assess the risk in humans were "lacking or inadequate." The report was released by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

When the FDA failed to respond to the 2008 petition, the national environmental group sued. Today's announcement is the result of a settlement in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, according to the NRDC.

"Every day, millions of American consumers are exposed to this dangerous chemical, commonly used in packaging for canned foods, beverages and even baby formula," said Sarah Janssen, a senior scientist in the Environment and Public Health program at NRDC, in a press release. "The FDA has an obligation to protect us from toxic food additives. As thousands of studies have already shown, BPA is a dangerous chemical that has no place in the food chain. Its use in food and beverage containers needs to be banned."