European physical agents legislation could make MRI scanners 'impractical', new study shows

The limits set by an EU directive designed to reduce adverse health effects on workers exposed to electro-magnetic fields could keep patients from undergoing valuable magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, warn Australian researchers. 

A study by Stuart Crozier and colleagues at the University of Brisbane has shown that anyone standing within one metre of an MRI machine while it is operating will exceed proposed EU limits.

The physical agents legislation was adopted by the EU in 2004 and is set to be fully implemented by April 2008. Under the new law, workers must not exceed fixed limits on the level of exposure to electro-magnetic fields to avoid any potential physiological damage. Workers include doctors, nurses and other hospital staff who operate or work closely with MRI scanners. 

The Alliance for MRI was launched in 2007 to avert the ’serious threat’ posed by the legislation. In a statement responding to Crozier’s findings, the alliance said: ’This will prevent healthcare staff from assisting or caring for patients during imaging, and will mean that some patients who cannot be imaged without this care - perhaps because they are young, elderly, frail or confused - will either be denied imaging or have to undergo an alternative procedure using x rays.’

Crozier also highlighted, in a second paper, that workers would have to walk extremely slowly when close to the scanner, even when it was not operating, in order to avoid exceeding the limits of exposure. The alliance claims that this could make all use of MRI ’essentially impractical’.

Victoria Gill

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