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Implementation of a Blind Quality Control Program in Blood Alcohol Analysis

Journal: Journal of Analytical Toxicology
Published: 2019
Primary Author: Jackeline Moral
Secondary Authors: Callan Hundel, Dayong Lee, Maddisen Neuman, Aimee Grimaldi, Maria Cuellar, Peter Stout

Declared proficiency tests are limited in their use for testing the performance of the entire system, because analysts are aware that they are being tested. A blind quality control (BQC) is intended to appear as a real case to the analyst to remove any intentional or subconscious bias. A BQC program allows a real-time assessment of the laboratory’s policies and procedures and monitors reliability of casework. In September 2015, the Houston Forensic Science Center (HFSC) began a BQC program in blood alcohol analysis. Between September 2015 and July 2018, HFSC submitted 317 blind cases: 89 negative samples and 228 positive samples at five target concentrations (0.08, 0.15, 0.16, 0.20 and 0.25 g/100 mL; theoretical targets). These blood samples were analyzed by a headspace gas chromatograph interfaced with dual-flame ionization detectors (HS-GC-FID). All negative samples produced `no ethanol detected’ results. The mean (range) of reported blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) for the aforementioned target concentrations was 0.075 (0.073–0.078), 0.144 (0.140–0.148), 0.157 (0.155–0.160), 0.195 (0.192–0.200) and 0.249 (0.242–0.258) g/100 mL, respectively. The average BAC percent differences from the target for the positive blind cases ranged from −0.4 to −6.3%, within our uncertainty of measurement (8.95–9.18%). The rate of alcohol evaporation/degradation was determined negligible. A multiple linear regression analysis was performed to compare the % difference in BAC among five target concentrations, eight analysts, three HS-GC-FID instruments and two pipettes. The variables other than target concentrations showed no significant difference (P > 0.2). While the 0.08 g/100 mL target showed a significantly larger % difference than higher target concentrations (0.15–0.25 g/100 mL), the % differences among the higher targets were not concentration-dependent. Despite difficulties like gaining buy-in from stakeholders and mimicking evidence samples, the implementation of a BQC program has improved processes, shown methods are reliable and added confidence to staff’s testimony in court.

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