Tide turns in fight to stop European Commission restricting use of MRI scanners

24 April 2009

Further pressure has been applied to the European Commission to amend the Physical Agents (EMF) Directive which, if adopted into national legislation, would drastically curtail the use of MRI scanners in hospitals and research centres across Europe.

Both the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and the European Parliament have backed calls to change the course of the legislation by, in ICNIRP’s instance, 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, an umbrella group currently campaigning in Europe to ensure that MRI technology is not left dormant by heavy-handed European legislation, and a wide range of professional bodies, including the Institute of Physics (IOP), have breathed a sigh of relief as the tide begins to turn.

The EMF Directive, adopted by the EU in 2004, 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 ICNIRP guidelines but these were cautious guidelines including many assumptions and safety factors. ICNIRP has now 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. It is hoped that in 2010 ICNIRP will also amend its guidelines on the time-varying magnetic fields used in MRI, which are the main problem in the Directive.

Concurrently, on 1 April 2009, the European Parliament called on the European Commission to exempt MRI scanners in order to ensure the safe passage of the Directive which, as a whole, might be desirable to protect a wide range of workers in industries where exposure to electromagnetic fields could be dangerous [1].

Dr Stephen Keevil from King’s College London, author of the IOP’s 2008 report, MRI and the Physical Agents (EMF) Directive [2], 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 alone, benefitting well over 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.


1. For further information about the discussion held in the European Parliament, please go to the European Parliament website  

2. The report MRI and the Physical Agents (EMF) Directive can be downloaded from:

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