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.
Implementation of a Blind Quality Control Program in Blood Alcohol Analysis
Journal: Journal of Analytical Toxicology
Primary Author: Jackeline Moral
Secondary Authors: Callan Hundel, Dayong Lee, Maddisen Neuman, Aimee Grimaldi, Maria Cuellar, Peter Stout