Objection to EU Directive

In 2004, Sense about Science led a group of scientists and researchers in highlighting and objecting to an EU Directive that sought to set limits on occupational exposure to electromagnetic fields. The directive would have made many procedures using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) illegal.

Sense about Science, the Royal College of Radiologists, the Institute of Physics, the British Institute of Radiologists and the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, campaigned with scientists to repel the directive. We ran briefing sessions in Parliament, gave evidence to government enquiries and the Commons Science and Technology Committee and raised awareness of the issue in the media. In October 2007 the implementation of the directive was delayed for four years, pending further research, and then finally repealed in 2013.

“When scientists approached us with their frustrations at the lack of response to their concerns about the legislation, we were surprised that no-one involved in the policy had considered the public impact — not only the unnecessary threat to healthcare and research, but also the likely confusion about the relative risks of different types of scans,” said Sense about Science director Tracey Brown. “The scientific reasoning was largely absent but there was a lot of resistance to changing a directive already passed. The repeal of the Directive shows that, armed with scientific reasoning, scientists were able to convince individuals in parliament and government, and eventually the Commission, that the problem needed to be sorted out. It’s a victory for scientific reasoning over obstinacy.”



EU announces Physical Agents (EMF) directive


Sense about Science held a ‘state of the debate’ briefing on radiodiagnostics in Westminster in February. The briefing was given by two leading radiologists: Professor Adrian Dixon, Honorary Consultant Radiologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Professor of Radiology at University of Cambridge; and Professor Janet Husband, President of the Royal College of Radiologists.

In September, twelve leading scientists sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Health, highlighting the impact of the Physical Agents (EMF) Directive on medical MRI procedures and asking that the British government press for an amendment to the directive. Sense about Science held a press briefing to highlight the potential impact of the Directive on clinical practice and research.

Scientists also met with Lord Hunt of Kings Heath to discuss the impacts of the Physical Agents (EMF) Directive and what steps should be taken to assess and amend the Directive. Later in the year, two academic papers were published, which examined the effects of the Physical Agents (EMF) Directive. Both concluded that the Directive had not taken into account evidence that MRI was a safe and effective way in which individuals could be screened.


In January, The Federation of European Academies of Medical Science met with the Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Affairs (SANCO) to request MRI’s exclusion. SANCO was surprised to discover that the Directive (drawn up by the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities [EMPL]) had been passed without any impact assessment of its health implications and says it will meet with Commissioner Spidla to discuss this.

In March, a group representing the European radiology, medical physics and MRI communities met with Commissioner Spidla (of DG Employment, with responsibility for the Physical Agents Directive) in Brussels. The Commission agreed to establish a scientific working group to review the Directive’s likely impact.

The Science and Technology committee heard evidence from the campaign in May, and published a report in June criticising the Directive.


Early in 2007 EU member-state governments were sent a letter regarding the Physical Agents (EMF) Directive. The Director Generals of DG Employment (who are responsible for the Directive) and DG Sanco (the health Directorate) jointly wrote to member governments to say that:

  • they understand that there is a problem with the Directive regarding MRI
  • they are waiting to see data from studies that are assessing the extent to which current clinical use of MRI exceeds the limits as set out in the Directive
  • if the data suggest that there is a problem they will be prepared to address it, not excluding a proposal to amend the Directive

On 26th October 2007, the European Commission decided to delay the implementation of the Physical Agents (EMF) Directive for at least four years.


On 29th June 2013, the European Commission repealed Directive.


Published: 13 September 2016