Germany to sink diagnostic reference levels for x-ray radiation | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 23.08.2016
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Science

Germany to sink diagnostic reference levels for x-ray radiation

Depending where you are in the world, and what kind of machine you're standing in front of, you are exposed to different levels of radiation during an x-ray examination. Germany is now looking to turn down the juice.

According to a statement released by Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) on Tuesday, the diagnostic reference levels for all x-ray and CT examinations carried out in the country have been significantly reduced, marking what the BfS called a "very positive development" for the German population.

On average, the amount of radiation that German physicians should use per examination will sink by 20 percent. For particular tests, that level will drop by half, the BfS explained to DW.

"This is because the efficacy of the machines has improved," said Anja Lutz, a BfS spokeswoman. "Less radiation is now used to produce the same result as before," she said, explaining that Tuesday's announcement wasn't groundbreaking news for the industry.

"We have a rhythm of amending our diagnostic reference levels every six to seven years," Lutz went on. "The last time we did this was 2010, and back then they were reduced as well."

Whole lot of x-rays

When it comes to comparing the amount of radiation used per x-ray or CT, Germany is in a good spot in Europe. "Indeed, less radiation is used in German hospitals compared to the rest of Europe," but Lutz was adamant that more work is to be done.

"Our office calls on all physicians to think carefully about whether or not to perform an x-ray or CT, because compared to other countries in Europe, more such examinations are done here."

Symbolbild - Röntgengerät

Statistically, x-ray exams are more common in Germany, but Iceland is leading the way

The average German is x-rayed 1.4 times per year, placing it fifth in an EU Commission study from 2014 comprising 36 European countries. In Iceland, researchers found the average citizen had 2.1 x-ray examinations per year, the most in Europe.

Critics in Germany have been calling for a reduction for years.

"The danger remains there, but you'll never hear a word about it in public," Inge Schmitz-Feuerhake, a particularly vociferous opponent of the government radiation policy, told DW.

Schmitz-Feuerhake said she "welcomed" the news that frame levels for x-ray radiation were down, in particular because they are "the most potent current source of radiation for the German population," but she called on the government to do far more.

"So many people have developed cancer, and not a word is said about them. It's good that people are waking up, but things have to move faster if we really want to do justice to our civic duty to protect."

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