ESR must flex its muscles to get heard in Brussels

April 1, 2007

The current fiasco over the European Union Directive on electromagnetic fields illustrates exactly why the newly formed European Society of Radiology (ESR) is so urgently needed.

The current fiasco over the European Union Directive on electromagnetic fields illustrates exactly why the newly formed European Society of Radiology (ESR) is so urgently needed. The lawmakers and bureaucrats in Brussels appear to have largely ignored the views and interests of radiologists during the consultation phase, and legislation designed to protect workers' health and safety now threatens to put strict limits on MRI examinations (see Imaging News section in this issue).

DI Europe's first article on the Directive was published as long ago as October 2003. The author was Emily Hayes, then a contributing editor on DI Europe, now the San Francisco-based feature editor of DI. She wrote about how the regulators posed a potential threat, particularly to high-field MR, and reported radiologists' concerns.

"Clearly this matter is of grave concern for people who want to do high-field MR," said Prof. Roger Ordidge, a medical physicist at University College London, at the time. "The safety issue will be a thorn in the side of Europe. We don't want to be at a disadvantage, particularly as the Americans have extended their limits."

In spite of such warnings, the European Commission pushed ahead with the Physical Agents Directive 2004/40/EC (EMF), which EU countries must implement by April 2008. It imposes maximum values on workers' exposure to electromagnetic radiation at frequencies up to 300 GHz. Interventional MR procedures look set to become illegal, and anybody moving within the stray field of a strong magnet may breach the limits on exposure to time-varying fields.

At last month's European Congress of Radiology, the ESR linked up with parliamentarians, patient associations, and scientists to unveil the Alliance for MRI, which is lobbying for a last-minute exemption for clinical MRI. The group deserves support, but it seems amazing that it has taken so long for such a campaign to get off the ground. If these parties had joined forces back in 2003, the regulators would surely have come to their senses much earlier. The hastily arranged press conference on the opening day of ECR 2007 would have been unnecessary, and the blushes of embarrassed spokespeople would have been spared.

The creation of a strong and well-organized ESR represents radiologists' best hope for avoiding such situations in the future. As Prof. Nicholas Gourtsoyiannis explains in the news story in this edition, the society will support members' needs and raise the status of radiology. The annual membership fee of Euro 10 appears to be great value, particularly if ESR officials can make themselves heard in Brussels.

Further news from ECR will appear in forthcoming editions. You can also log onto our webcast at DiagnosticImaging.com by clicking on the ECR '07 logo at the top of our home page.