Looming directive threatens MR in Europe

October 9, 2007

Dire predictions surfaced this week that a European directive set to take effect by April 2008 will bring MR imaging in Europe to a standstill. These are not the first such warnings.

Dire predictions surfaced this week that a European directive set to take effect by April 2008 will bring MR imaging in Europe to a standstill. These are not the first such warnings.

Periodically over the last couple of years, medical experts attending European meetings, including the European Congress of Radiology in 2006 and this year, have urged the imaging community to lobby against the directive. It was adopted in 2004 by the European Parliament to protect European workers from potentially harmful exposure to electromagnetic fields. The most recent plea, made Sept. 24 during a press conference at the European Cancer Conference, reflects the increasing urgency to stop the directive, which would impose strict limits on exposure to EM fields in all European Union countries.

If implemented, the new rule would end the practice of MR in Europe as it is currently performed, according to Dag Rune Olsen, chairman of the physics committee of the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.

"Anyone working or moving near MRI equipment will breach (the directive limits), thus making it possible for them to sue their employers," Olsen said. "Even those maintaining or servicing the equipment may be affected."

A British study published in the June 2007 issue of Health and Safety Executive found that anyone standing within about one meter of an MR scanner would breach the proposed exposure limits. This would pose particular problems to staff caring for children, the elderly, or patients who have been anesthetized and need close attention during scans. It will also stop the use of MRI for interventional and surgical procedures and will curtail research.

The European Commission is investigating the adverse and unintended effects of the directive. The results, scheduled for publication in October, will be considered, along with other evidence, when determining whether and how to amend the directive or whether to extend the implementation period.

Any revision in the directive or schedule will come too late, however, for at least one European country, according to Olsen.

"Slovakia has already implemented the directive, on the grounds that it was based on the assumption that the limits which it sets would have no effect," he said. "This would appear to mean that it is now illegal to carry out MRI scanning in the country."