MRI scans may be halted under EU directive

24 Sep 2007
EU legislation on electromagnetic fields, due to be implemented by April 2008, could prevent the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), an important tool in cancer diagnosis, treatment and research.

Professor Dag Rune Olsen, an experimental radiation therapist at the Norwegian Radiation Hospital, Oslo and chairman of the physics committee of the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ESTRO), said that "the directive will mean that anyone working or moving near MRI equipment will breach [the limits set], thus making it possible for them to sue their employers".

The directive was drafted by the Directorate General of Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, with the aim of minimising workers' exposure to electromagnetic fields.

A British study of these fields, published by the Health and Safety Executive in June 2007, found that anyone standing within around 1 metre of an operating MRI scanner would breach the exposure limits laid down in the directive. The commission is set to consider this study, alongside a report it has prepared itself, when deciding whether to amend the directive or extend the implication period.

For Professor Olsen, that may be too late: "Slovakia has already implemented the directive on the grounds that it was based on the assumption that the limits it sets would have no effect. This would appear to mean that it is now illegal to carry out MRI scanning in the country."

The directive, in its current form, will be especially problematic for healthcare staff dealing with children, the elderly, anaesthetised patients and those that need help and comfort during scans.

Professor Olsen also stressed that MRI scanning was not only more effective, but safer than both X-Ray and Computer Tomography (CT) scans. He stated that, to his knowledge, there was "no current evidence of harm to either workers or patients" posed by MRI.

He suggested greater interaction between policymakers and health professionals as a solution to the issues raised, adding that "hasty decisions without scientific support will have a severe impact on medical diagnostics and must be avoided". Finally he called on the EU commission to either amend or abandon the problematic directive.