But the decision puts them on a collision course with EU member states, including Ireland, that say this will be too heavy a burden for industry.
The REACH directive (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) aims to reform Europe’s laws on chemicals and protect people from dangerous substances found in detergents, computer parts and furniture, for instance.
About 97% of chemicals have never been tested for their effects on people. The proposed directive is having its second reading after three years of debate and huge amounts of lobbying.
The European Parliament has proved itself more environmentally and people-friendly than national governments that watered down safeguards in the first reading. They removed the substitution clause — described as a cornerstone of the legislation — and instead said companies could continue to use potentially toxic chemicals if they proved they could be controlled.
But MEPs in the important Environment Committee reversed this in a move welcomed by health bodies, environmentalists and trade unions, but described by the chemical industry as a backward step.
The MEPs also included two other measures dropped by governments. These insist producers and importers must provide a safety report for chemicals produced in quantities of between one and 10 tons yearly and that they have a duty of care for all chemicals on the European market.
Fine Gael MEP Avril Doyle, a member of the Environment and the Industry Committee, both of which deal with REACH, said the decision struck a good balance between protecting health and economic competitiveness.
Very little is known about the effects of the vast majority of the 100,000-plus chemicals on the market, she said, claiming the public was concerned.
The 40 different directives covering chemicals are confusing and inefficient. REACH, it is anticipated, will rationalise the system and register all chemicals that have not been tested for their effect on human health. As well as taking care of health and the environment, the new rules should foster innovation by encouraging new substances to be developed, she said.
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún described the vote as a good result for those who value the protection of workers’ health, the general public and the environment. Almost two years ago, some MEPs volunteered to be tested for traces of toxic chemicals that come from every-day objects, such as fire-resistant sofas, non-stick pans, greaseproof pizza boxes, flexible PVC, fragrances and pesticides. “The results were astounding. The studies showed an average of 37 chemicals in the blood of the participants”, Ms de Brún noted.