EU regulation may limit use of MRI technology

Published 12 June 2007

To protect employees in the electricity and mobile-phone industries, the EU formulated regulations limiting exposure to radiation — regulation which may have unintended consequences

This may be news of medical importance, but it is not unrelated to debates over the merits of different detection technologies used in homeland security applications. At issues are new European Union safety rules, designed to safeguard workers, which, according to leading scientists, would jeopardize the use of MRI scanners in hospitals.

The Vienna, Austria-based European Society of Radiology said new scientific evidence showed the limits set in the EU Physical Agents Directive were impractical since they would be routinely exceeded by workers close to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. “The values described in the directive would be exceeded in every use of MRI,” Gabriel Krestin, professor and chairman of the Department of Radiology at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, said in a statement. “We would have to use other forms of scanning, such as X-rays, which are known to be harmful. Research would also be severely curtailed, since it is often conducted with much stronger magnetic fields than those used in clinical practice.”

Scientific American reports that The EU directive, setting limits on exposure to electromagnetic fields, is due to come into effect in April next year. The European Society of Radiology argues an exception should be made for MRI scanners, which are used to provide internal images of the body.

The new EU limits are intended primarily to protect workers in the electricity and mobile-phone industries, but MRI has become entangled in the regulation.

Studies commissioned by the UK Health and Safety Executive found that anyone standing within about one meter of an MRI scanner while it is acquiring images would exceed the exposure limits set out in the EU directive.

Leading manufacturers of scanners, among them General Electric, Siemens, and Philips Electronics, are gearing up to weigh in on the issue.