Infrared Breath Testing Devices: Common Problems

October 21st, 2008 Allen Trapp Posted in Breath Tests, Chemical Test, Intox 5000 No Comments »

     A major issue with infrared breath testing devices is that they not only detect the ethyl alcohol found in alcoholic beverages but also in other substances that have a similar molecular structure. Stated differently, these devices identify any compound containing the methyl group molecular structure. And the issue with this is that more than one hundred compounds can be found in a human’s breath at any one time and 70% to 80% of these compounds contain the methyl group molecular structure. The consequence of this is that these methyl group molecular structures will be incorrectly identified and labeled as ethyl alcohol. Interestingly, the more ethyl group substances the breathalyzer detects, the higher the false blood alcohol content estimate will be.

     The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that people who are diabetics or dieters can have acetone levels that are hundreds, if not a thousand of times higher than people who are not diabetics or dieters. The key issue here is that acetone is one of the many substances that can be falsely detected as ethyl alcohol by some breathalyzers.

     There’s also a variety of products found in the environment that can lead to erroneous BAC results with these machines. Some of these products include substances or compounds found in cleaning fluids, celluloid, gasoline, paint removers, and in lacquers. Other common substances that can result in false BAC levels are alcohol, vomit, or blood in the person’s mouth. False BAC readings can also be caused from electrical interference, dirt, smoke, cell phones, police radios, moisture, and tobacco smoke.

     Infrared breath testing devices can be very sensitive to temperature and will result in false readings if they are not adjusted or recalibrated to compensate for ambient or surrounding air temperatures. Moreover, the temperature of the person being tested is also significant. More specifically, each degree (in Centigrade) in the subject’s body temperature above 34 C (98.6 Fahrenheit)  can result in a relatively large elevation (about 8.6%) in apparent BAC.

Written by Allen Trapp who is board certified by the National College for DUI Defense and the author of Georgia DUI Survival Guide Visit Website
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June 19th, 2007 Allen Trapp Posted in Breath Tests, Health Issues No Comments »

Shortly after this blog was launched last year a producer from the “Oprah” show contacted me, because they were considering a segment on bariatric surgery and alcohol consumption.  She had found our last article on the subject while researching on the web and had several questions.  We talked for quite some time, and a few weeks later they aired their segment.  As a result of the publicity a doctor in California hurriedly put together an experiment.  The following story summarizes his findings.

SAN FRANCISCO (Associated Press, June 17, 2007)- People who had obesity surgery got drunk after just one glass of red wine, researchers reported in a small study that was inspired by an episode on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“A lot of people think they can have one glass of wine and be OK,” said Dr. John Morton, assistant professor of surgery at Stanford University Medical Center, who is the study’s lead author. “The concern here is they really can’t.”

Morton has performed more than 1,000 gastric bypass, or stomach stapling, surgeries. He said he routinely warns his patients about drinking alcohol, but it wasn’t until Winfrey discussed the issue on her show last October that the public really took notice. He said questions poured in. “I didn’t find a whole lot in the literature, so that prompted the study,” he said.

The research team gave 36 men and women – 19 who had obesity surgery and 17 who did not – five ounces of red wine each to drink in 15 minutes. Using a breathalyzer, their alcohol levels were measured every five minutes until it returned to zero. More than 70 percent of the surgery patients hit a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent, which qualifies as legally intoxicated in California, and two reached levels above .15, Morton said. By contrast, most of the control group had levels below 0.05 percent, the study reported.

Researchers also found that obesity patients took longer to sober up. After matching the control group with the patient group for age, gender and weight, they found the patients took 108 minutes on average to return to a zero blood-alcohol level versus 72 minutes for the control group. Morton said the obesity surgery patients don’t produce as much of an enzyme that breaks down alcohol because their stomachs are smaller. Also, the alcohol passes to their small intestine faster, speeding up absorption, he said.

Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the weight management center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said Morton’s results support alcohol warnings normally given to gastric bypass patients. However, she called drinking five ounces of wine in 15 minutes an “artificial” test. No one – let alone bariatric surgery patients – would be advised to drink that amount of alcohol so quickly, she said.


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Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease

June 16th, 2007 Allen Trapp Posted in Breath Tests, Health Issues No Comments »

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common disease that affects approximately 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. population. GERD is a chronic condition that results from esophagus deterioration from stomach acid eruptions over time. Mark Scott and Aimee R. Gelhot, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Diagnosis and Management, 59 Am.Fam. Physician 1161 (1999) (available online at The impact on breath testing is whether alcohol erupting from the stomach into the mouth from gastric reflux (generally a silent response) poses a problem with accurate breath testing during a 20-minute deprivation period. Research has been minimal to nonexistent on this issue. Research conducted to try to mimic gastric reflux is problematic because of a very small non-representative population (ten people or less) sample, and some researchers used a compression belt to invoke eruption, in contrast to spontaneous and natural eruption.

In People v. Bonutti, ___ Ill.App.3d ___, 788 N.E.2d 331, 273 Ill.Dec. 22 (5th Dist. 2003), expert testimony identified that the defendant had suffered from GERD since 1992 and was being treated for the condition. The expert testified that alcohol, coffee, and carbonated drinks dilate the stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter. The reflux is silent, and regurgitation and reflux are synonymous. In Bonutti, the trial court properly suppressed the breath test when the defendant testified that he refluxed during the 20-minute observation period. However, the trial court properly declined to rescind the statutory summary suspension where the State rebutted the defendant’s claim the breath test was invalid.

In the State of Washington, the Washington State Patrol examined the issue of GERD and concluded safeguards should be implemented for fair and accurate breath testing. Their conclusions for proper breath alcohol testing suggested a sound forensic practice should be followed to ensure the integrity of the breath test and GERD recognition. The safeguards should include the following: at least a 15-minute pre-sample observation period, duplicate testing, instrument detection of mouth alcohol, trained and alert operators that ask appropriate questions, and visual observations looking for symptoms of GERD. Rod G. Gullberg, Breath Alcohol Analysis in One Subject with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. 46 J. Forensic Sci. 1498 (2001).

The problem in most breath testing programs is lack of training on GERD, absence of duplicate testing, and that pre-evidentiary test questions do not include information about GERD. In one Midwest state police program, a breath testing instructor testified that he purposely avoids the GERD issue in his breath test training program. The use of a continuous 20-minute observation period is supported again. An officer should be prohibited from driving a car, reading paperwork, turning his or her back on the defendant, and leaving the room during the 20-minute deprivation period. Anything other than continuous 20-minute observation should be prohibited to help ensure the integrity of the breath test. General compliance for a person who suffers from GERD is not acceptable.

Dr. Ronald Henson, Ph.D., C.P.C.T.

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Airline Blames Breath Test Result on Diet

April 8th, 2007 Allen Trapp Posted in Breath Tests, Health Issues No Comments »

This article was published by Reuters on April 7, 2007.

LONDON, April 7 (Reuters) – An airline pilot arrested just before take-off on suspicion of being over the alcohol limit was not drunk and the diet he was on may have been to blame for the confusion, airline Virgin Atlantic said on Saturday.

Police arrested the 47-year-old pilot of a New York-bound Virgin Atlantic [VA.UL] plane at London’s Heathrow airport last Saturday after being tipped off by security staff who thought the pilot had been drinking.

While an initial breath test showed the pilot to be over the alcohol limit, police told the pilot on Saturday that a blood test was negative, Virgin Atlantic spokesman Paul Charles said.

“The result showed the amount of alcohol in the blood was consistent with that of a non-drinker,” he said.

No charges will be brought against the British pilot, whose name was not released. The pilot, suspended after the incident, will be able to resume his duties immediately, the airline said.

“He is elated with the news and is keen to resume his flying career as soon as possible,” Charles said.

Charles said a diet the pilot had been on may have been the cause of the mistake. A laboratory that carried out a blood test on the pilot said some diets led the body to generate increased levels of acetone, he said. “It would smell like alcohol on someone’s breath,” he said.

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Albuterol Inhaler: Impact on a Breath Test

August 9th, 2006 Allen Trapp Posted in Breath Tests No Comments »

Medicine administered to an individual that alters airways and alveolar sacs changes the 2100:1 ratio used in breath alcohol testing. A blood test would be the appropriate test to request in cases in which respiratory medicines have been administered to an individual prior to breath testing.A study conducted in 1998 added information to the question of alveolar exchange alteration. T. Martinez and R. Martinez, The Effect of an Inhalation Aerosol Bronchodilator on Breathalyzer Results in Drinking and Non-Drinking Subjects, Proc.West.Pharmacol.Soc. 41:51-52 (1998). Is there a difference of false positives between non-drinking and drinking subjects? The researchers found in non-drinking subjects that a single puff from a bronchial inhalator obtained readings as high as 0.120 BrAC in 30 minutes and the subjects returned to a 0.00 BrAC in 6 minutes. Thus, a 20-minute depravation period is sufficient under these conditions.

However, when drinking subjects who started with a BrAC of 0.05 used a bronchial inhalator, the effects of erroneously high readings were observed over prolonged periods. The influence of the bronchial inhalator influenced the third digit after the 20-minute period. The findings are relevant for testing subjects near the legal limit range; however, the defense for extremely high readings over the legal limit is not supported. Limitations of the study include (1) consideration of oxidization values, (2) that no more than two puffs of a bronchial inhaler were examined, (3) a non-representative population sample, and (4) the limited types of medications available.

When a law enforcement officer determines that the defendant has used medication, he should then request a blood test and should not continue with a breath test. If the breath test is admitted, the prosecution should have the burden of proving that the medication did not interfere with the test result. People v. Miller, 166 Ill.App.3d 155, 519 N.E.2d 717, 116 Ill.Dec. 649 (3d Dist. 1988). See also People v. Winfield, 30 Ill.App.3d 668, 332 N.E.2d 634 (3d Dist. 1975).

Ronald Henson Ph.D., C.P.C.T.

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Breath Test After Airbag Deployment.

August 7th, 2006 Allen Trapp Posted in Breath Tests No Comments »

Dr. Ronald Henson was kind enough to share this with us.

The Tyndall Effect is at issue for drivers involved in accidents in which the air bag device was deployed. The Tyndall Effect, discovered by John Tyndall, a British physicist in the 1800s, is the suspension of insoluble particles (colloidal suspension) in liquid or gases. The effect is a dispersion of light. Like headlights in the fog, the light emitted from the headlight is not shown directly through the fog to a road sign. Instead, the fog (colloid) disperses the light. In relation to airbags and breath alcohol testing, a person exposed to airbag deployment can produce an erroneously high breath alcohol reading using infrared technology machines.

The airbag is deployed (at 200 m.p.h.) using a nitrogen gas to fill the airbag in about 30 milliseconds. The powdery substance seen during deployment and on an individual’s clothing is talc and/or cornstarch packed with the bag to maintain the bag’s integrity while stored in place. When the talc and cornstarch are deployed into the air with the airbag inflation, the particles are inhaled and will be expelled in the breath for several hours. Individuals have reported regurgitating and spitting out the powdery substance for two to three hours and more. Andreas Madlung, The Chemistry behind the Airbag: High Tech in First-Year Chemistry, 73 J.Chem.Educ. 347 (1996).

When an individual then blows into a breath machine using infrared analysis like the Intoxilyzer Model 5000, the talc and/or cornstarch is introduced with the breath sample into the breath analysis chamber. When the infrared light is shown through the chamber, the light is then dispersed because of the Tyndall Effect. Thus, the reading is high erroneous when attempting to qualify and quantify for ethyl alcohol. When the Intoxilyzer Model 5000 was first released in the early 1980s, the airbag/Tyndall Effect was not a likely issue due to a lack of airbags in vehicles. However, with the mandates for airbags and expansion of their usage within the vehicle, the Tyndall Effect is a major factor in BrAC accuracy. Blood testing is the appropriate method to combat the Tyndall Effect.

Ronald Henson, Ph.D., CPCT
P.O. Box 10706
Peoria, IL 61612-0706
Beron Consulting
(309) 360-5614

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Breath Test with Blood in the Mouth

August 6th, 2006 Allen Trapp Posted in Breath Tests No Comments »

Dr. Ronald Henson has shared the following observations about breath testing of individuals who have blood in their mouths, usually following a traffic accident.

If blood is found in the mouth of an individual, medical treatment should be given first, and then a blood-alcohol analysis test should be requested. In many cases, a defendant may have been involved in an accident, and blood will be evident in the mouth from loose teeth, a cut lip, or other lacerations and abrasions. Bleeding of the gums and loose teeth may also be symptoms of gum disease.

Focusing on Henry’s Law, if alcohol molecules were introduced from the bottom part of the simulator into the outlet, equilibrium would no longer be established. In fact, there would be a higher concentration of alcohol molecules at the breath outlet/inlet tube than normal. Thus, a high reading would occur.

Although there is not a published decision on this issue, there is an appellate court decision “not to be published.” In People v. Gray, No. 3-93-0077, Rule 23, slip op. at 4 (3d Dist. 1993), William Brey, retired chief of the former Illinois Department of Public Health Division of Alcohol and Substance Testing, testified, “any foreign substance in the mouth, including blood, required a urine or blood test instead of a breathalyzer test.”

Ronald E. Henson, Ph.D.

P.O. Box 10706

Peoria, IL. 61612-0706

(309) 360-5614

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Portable Breath Test : the Alco-Sensor

August 6th, 2006 Allen Trapp Posted in Breath Tests, PBT's No Comments »

The PBT is recommended for use after the field sobriety tests, although an officer will frequently employ before other FST’s, which fundamentally prejudices his evaluation of the other tests. Administration of the PBT after the other field sobriety tests (FST’s) also helps the officer comply with an industry recommended 15 minute deprivation time period. The Alcosensor IV operating manual specifically recommends a 15 minute waiting period. However, officers frequently ignore this recommendation and direct motorists to blow into a PBT before the administration of other FST’s.

In the 1980’s PBTs were (in many States) originally intended to be used after the FST’s to ensure the officer is working with an alcohol issue as opposed to drugs or a diabetic condition (Qualification not Quantification). Over the course of time in many states the PBT result has become admissible evidence (Qualification and now Quantification). But, the PBT is not accurate for determining BrAC. Carry over effect, lack of mouth alcohol detection, improper deprivation period, lack of calibration maintenance, and fuel cell maintenance are some of the top issues in cases involving a PBT. On the Alcosensor, the calibration adjustment screw is exposed on the side of the unit and assessable to the operator. The unit even comes with its own mini screwdriver to adjust the value up or down. Georgia allows any police officer to administer a PBT, and any of them can adjust the calibration of a PBT.

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