Does Gaza MRI Scanner Weapons Discovery by IDF Ignore What Magnets Do to Metal?


The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concern about the fate of the head of Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, Muhammad Abu Salmiya, who was detained by Israel this week.

He is apparently being questioned about the Israeli allegation that he may have collaborated with Hamas following the earlier Israeli allegation that the hospital was over a major command and control Hamas center.

The Israeli Defense Force said in a highly publicized statement that Hamas fighters gathered weapons, including grenades, AK-47s, and Kalashnikovs, in the hospital’s MRI section. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have produced a video to show a stack of weaponry directly next to the MRI scanner.

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging and the clue is in the name – the machine deploys very powerful electro-magnets to create a powerful magnetic field. Such a force field would interact with metallic objects in a reliable but adverse manner, which would mean that the choice to store metallic weapons there would be at best an odd one, and could even be suicidal.

The gun likely discharged as a result of the effect of the magnetic field on the firing pin block. The force of the magnetic field probably drew the firing pin block into its uppermost position. The firing pin block has to overcome only light pressure from a relatively small spring to release the firing pin.

This direct quote comes from a research paper published in the academic journal, American Journal of Roentgenology, and is entitled: ‘Spontaneous Discharge of a Firearm in an MR Imaging Environment’.

The authors of the paper, Anton Oscar Beitia, Steven P. Meyers, Emanuel Kanal, and William Bartell at the time they published the paper in 2002, were based at the Departments of Radiology, University of Rochester Medical Center, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and also included one author, William Bartell, who was then based at Rochester Police Department.

Their case study is reported as follows:

An incident recently occurred at an outpatient imaging center in western New York State, in which a firearm spontaneously discharged in a 1.5-T MR imaging environment with active shielding. To our knowledge, this is the first documented case of such an occurrence. The event confirms previously reported theoretic risks of a firearm discharging in an MR imaging environment. In this report, we examine the incident in detail from the official police and ballistic reports.

Case Report

An off-duty police officer went to an outpatient imaging center (not affiliated with our institution) in western New York State to have an MR imaging examination. The facility housed a 1.5-T MR unit (Signa; General Electric Medical Systems, Milwaukee, WI) with active shielding. The officer was carrying a model 1991 A-1 compact.45 caliber semiautomatic pistol (Colt’s Manufacturing, Hartford, CT).

The officer notified the technologist that he was carrying the weapon before entering the MR dressing room. The technologist told the officer to take the gun with him. The technologist intended to meet the officer in the MR patient waiting area before the examination and secure the weapon in that room, where he felt it would be safe. However, the officer apparently misunderstood and took the gun into the MR suite. The technologist was entering the officer’s personal data into the computer and did not see him entering the MR suite.

Once the officer was inside the MR suite, the gun was pulled from his hand as he attempted to place the gun on top of a cabinet 3 ft (0.9 m) away from the magnet bore. The gun was immediately pulled into the bore, where it struck the left side and spontaneously discharged a round into the wall of the room at the rear of the magnet. Fortunately, no one was injured. Although the gun struck the magnet bore, only minimal cosmetic damage occurred to the magnet itself. The MR unit had full functional capability immediately after the gun was discharged. The weapon’s thumb safety was reportedly engaged when the gun discharged.

An unsuccessful attempt to remove the gun from the magnet resulted in the gun being pulled to the right side of the magnet. The decision was then made to power down the magnet to remove the gun.

The authors of the study go on to conclude:

In this incident, the gun discharged despite the thumb safety being engaged. This has important implications in that it shows that the weapon poses a risk for discharging in an MR imaging environment even with the thumb safety engaged.

One can look at the sequence of events preceding the discharge of the weapon and see several points at which the incident could have been prevented. When the officer came in with the gun, it should have been immediately secured in a safe location, even before the officer changed for the examination. The technologist, knowing the officer had a firearm, should have instructed him that under no circumstances could he bring the weapon into the MR suite. Also, the technologist should have been monitoring the officer more closely to make sure he did not enter the MR suite with the weapon. Signs should have been posted at that site, if they were not already there, warning the public of the dangers of approaching the magnetic field of the MR imager with implants, metallic devices, or objects such as firearms.

Another incident reported in a different academic journal, emphasizes that guns and MRI scanners don’t mix, this time study was entitled: ‘A “Near-Miss Lethal Accident Case” in MR Suit of a Tertiary Care Hospital’, and was published in the academic journal, Case Reports in Radiology and published in 2011.

The authors of the study, Samina Mufti, Mushtaq A. Sheikh, Abdul Hakim, Showkat A. Mufti, and Farooq Jan, based at Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Kashmir Srinagar, India, report a case where the gun taken inadvertently into the MRI suite was not discharged by was pinned to the side of the scanner. They report:

A fifty-five-year-old man was taken up for an MRI of the lumbosacral spine to detect metastases from bronchogenic carcinoma of the lung. He was accompanied by his son (a government security officer) who was allowed with him for assistance in the MRI scanner room. Both the patient and accompanying person were verbally asked to remove all ferromagnetic unsafe objects, from their possession. The accompanying person wore a jacket with a pistol in the inside pocket, which was inadvertently forgotten and not removed. As a result, when the patient’s son neared the magnet, he felt a strong pull toward the magnet of the scanner. He was frightened and quickly pulled off his jacket which flew to the magnetic bore where it was lodged.

The ‘bore’ referred to is the opening of the scanner through which the patient enters to be scanned.

These case reports suggest that storing guns or any other kind of metallic object next to an MRI scanner makes no sense and suggests that, at best, guns were ‘found’ there, then they were placed there relatively recently. The other odd thing about this weapons ‘find’, performed by soldiers, not doctors, nor radiologists, is that the correct experts would have realized, given the nature of magnetism, that the long-term storage of metal weapons next to an MRI scanner, would require some kind of explanation. No such clarification has been given.

Maybe one could be extracted now?


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