A pressure group that goes by the name of the MRI Alliance is demanding that the European Commission amends the Physical Agents (EMF) Directive, which, if adopted into national legislation, would drastically curtail the use of MRI scanners in hospitals.
The EMF Directive, adopted by the European Union (EU) in 2004, and due to come into force on national statute books in 2012, contains limits to occupational exposure of electromagnetic fields. The Directive was originally set to become law in 2008, but this was postponed due to pressure from the MRI community.
The European Commission based its Directive on previous guidelines from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). But these were cautious guidelines that included many assumptions and safety factors.
ICNIRP has revised its findings, in line with verifiable research, and concluded that in controlled environments, including hospitals and research centres, the limit for static magnetic fields should be higher.
The pressure group also hopes that in 2010, ICNIRP will amend its guidelines on the time-varying magnetic fields that are also used in MRI equipment.
Both the ICNIRP and the European parliament have backed calls to change the course of the legislation by, in ICNIRP’s case, publishing new, less restrictive guidelines on occupational exposure limits for static magnetic fields, while the European parliament has called on the Commission to completely exempt the use of MRI scanners from the Directive.
While neither of these moves are binding on the Commission, the MRI Alliance is campaigning in Europe to ensure that MRI technology is not left dormant by heavy-handed European legislation.
Dr Stephen Keevil from King’s College London, author of the Institute of Physics’ (IOP) 2008 report, ‘MRI and the Physical Agents (EMF) Directive’, said: ‘There is still some way to go but this groundswell from both ICNIRP and the European parliament is very welcome. The Commission now needs to take heed.’
There are 500 MRI scanners situated in hospitals around the UK, benefitting more than one million patients every year. Common uses for MRI scanners in the UK include diagnosing and monitoring the success of cancer treatment and assessing the damage caused by a stroke or heart attack.
MRI also plays a vital role in clinical research of diseases such as multiple sclerosis.