Forensic Toxicology

In December 2009, the Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory’s Manager learned of a mathematical error made in early 2006 in connection with the formula used to adjust certain of the DataMaster external quality assurance standards (“Alco Bottles”) for standard barometric pressure.  This adjustment is necessary when the current barometric pressure differs significantly from the standard pressure of 29.92 inches of mercury.  

An audit of all DataMaster breath tests administered between the date of the mathematical error and the lab’s discovery revealed the error was of significance in only two cases, both occurring in 2006.  In those two cases, the DataMaster test of the external standard fell within the wrongly calculated target value, but 0.001 outside of the correctly calculated target value.  In all of the other tests reviewed, the DataMaster’s result from testing the external standard fell within range for both the actual target value (i.e., if the correct formula had been used) and the erroneously calculated target value.  In other words, the discovery of the mathematical error has no legal or scientific significance in other than the two cases.  The laboratory’s procedure manual and technical review regarding the preparation and testing of quality assurance standards are in the process of being revised to assure that a similar error is not made in the future.

A detailed discussion of this matter and the procedures followed after it was discovered are contained in Laboratory Manager Orin Dym’s July 9, 2010 memorandum and attachments.

  • Description
  • Breath Alcohol Program
  • Breath Alcohol FAQ
  • Blood Alcohol Section
  • Blood Alcohol FAQ
  • Resources
  • Forensic Toxicology Links

Toxicology is the study of the effects of chemicals and physical agents on living organisms. At the crime lab we are most concerned with substances, namely drugs and alcohol, which impair a person's ability to reason or function in some form. Forensic toxicology programs are generally divided into two subsections, forensic alcohol testing and drug testing. The Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory currently has a full alcohol testing program including blood and breath alcohol as well as home brew and beverage alcohol content testing. Currently, Alaska does not have an in-house drug toxicology program and samples are sent to Washington State Patrol Toxicology Laboratory in Seattle, Washington, for drug analysis.

Data Master

The DataMaster cdm is the evidential breath testing instrument used in the state of Alaska. City, state, and military agencies use the DataMaster cdm to measure alcohol content in a subject's breath. The Breath Testing Program supplies agencies with evidential breath testing instruments and adequate training in order to operate these instruments. The program puts on a yearly training program to train Breath Alcohol Supervisors who then in turn train Breath Alcohol Operators. For the most part, Breath Alcohol Operators are police officers that are trained to operate the instrument.

The Breath Testing Program is responsible for maintaining the administrative records, along with repair, maintenance and upkeep of the instruments. Along with maintaining records, analysts in the program also make the external control that is used with each breath test. The Breath Testing Program analyzed approximately 6000 samples in 2007. Analysts in the Breath Testing Program routinely provide expert testimony in court around the state on the topics of impaired driving, alcohol, its properties and the science of forensic alcohol testing.

What is the Alaska Breath Alcohol Testing Program?

The Alaska Breath Alcohol Testing Program is a section of the Crime Lab dedicated to maintaining the operation, quality assurance, and records for the evidential breath alcohol analyzers used by police departments around the state, generally for DUI investigations.

What are evidential breath alcohol tests?

As part of a police investigation, it may be necessary for the investigating officer to determine a person�s alcohol level. The police investigator needs rapid and accurate results. To make this determination, the person under investigations provides a sample of his/her breath to an electronic instrument designed for the purpose of identifying alcohol as a component of breath and quantifying the amount of alcohol present. This instrument is an evidential breath alcohol analyzer.

Are DataMaster cdms used for roadside testing?

No, they are only used in a secure location such as a police station.

What instrument is used for breath testing in Alaska?

The DataMaster cdm

Could you briefly tell us about the instrument?

The DataMaster is an evidential breath testing instrument that uses Infrared Spectroscopy to identify and quantify alcohol.

Who uses the DataMaster? How are they trained?

Breath Alcohol Operators and Supervisors are allowed to use the instrument. The majority are trained police officers. Supervisors are trained at the crime lab, and then go back to their agencies and train Operators. Both Supervisors and Operators must have 40 hours and 8 hours respectively of in class/hands on training and pass a written test to receive certification.
The DataMaster cdm, manufactured by National Patent Analytical Systems, Incorporated, of Mansfield, OH. Website: www.npas.com

What is the difference between a Supervisor and a Designated Operator?

The length and amount of training a Supervisor has is much more than a Designated Operator. A Supervisor is able to help troubleshoot any mechanical or environmental problems that may arise. Designated Operators can perform a VOC and change an Alco, but not much beyond that.

Does the DataMaster test for anything besides alcohol?

Ethyl alcohol is the only substance the DataMaster will report a value for. Any other alcohols at similar wavelengths will report interference detected.

The Blood Alcohol section of the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratroy routinely tests biological specimens, such as blood and urine, along with beverage alcohol samples for alcohol content using a headspace gas chromatograph. With this method a small amount of blood is added to an airtight vial and then heated to allow the volatile alcohol to evaporate into the top of the vial. The "headspace" or air at the top of the vial is then sampled by the instrument and run through the gas chromatograph where it is separated from other volatiles that might be in the sample and then quantitated.

The Blood Alcohol Section analyzed approximately 600 samples for alcohol content in 2007.

Analysts in the Blood Alcohol Program routinely provide expert testimony in court around the state on the topics of impaired driving, alcohol, its properties and the science of forensic alcohol testing.

What is ethanol?

Ethyl alcohol is a clear, colorless, volatile liquid.

What is a blood alcohol concentration?

Grams of ethanol per 100 mL of whole blood

What method of testing blood alcohol is used at the Alaska Crime Lab?

Headspace Gas Chromatography

What is the preferred blood collection tube to use when submitting evidence to the Alaska Crime Lab?

Gray top Vacutainer� tubes with anticoagulant and preservative, which can be found in forensic alcohol collection kits.The next choice would be a purple top EDTA tube or green top heparin tube. Powdered anticoagulant rather than liquid should be employed to avoid diluting the blood.The last choice for blood collection would be a tube with no anticoagulant, which allows blood to clot and serum and red cells to separate.

Where do agencies get forensic alcohol collection kits?

These kits are made available to all state, city or military agencies through the State of Alaska, Department of Public Safety Supply Office.

What is the legal alcohol level in Alaska?

0.08 g/100mL of whole blood OR 0.08g/210L of breath

Breath Alcohol Manual

DataMaster DMT documents are available under the DataMaster DMT information quick link