The use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in medical research, diagnosis and treatment is threatened by new EU legislation on exposure to electromagnetic fields.
The exposure limits are based on poor evidence, according to a new report from the European Science Foundation that recommends that medical and research use of MRI should be exempt from the legislation.
The EC Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) directive limits the exposure of workers to EMF with frequencies in the range of zero to 300 GHz. These limits could prevent MRI research and severely hinder further development of this important medical imaging technology.
The report, which has been endorsed by the European Medical Research Councils, recommends an exemption from any limit values for MRI in clinical and research settings.
The EMF directive will come into effect in April 2012. The exposure limits would:
• stop healthcare staff giving help or support to patients, such as children, the elderly or those who are anaesthetised, during scans
• prevent the use of MRI for interventional and surgical procedures
• curtail research in the field of MRI treatment.
"The Directive is a blunt instrument," said Dr Stephen Keevil from King's College London, who co-chaired the report. "It sets exposure limits that either relate to harmless effects, or are well below the threshold at which any effects occur. 2012 is still some time away, but to effect change in the policy we need to act now.
"Safety is taken very seriously by the MRI community. The directive's aim of protecting workers is one that MRI researchers fully support, but its unintended effects are potentially disastrous. We're now working very closely with the European Commission to find a mutually acceptable solution."