Implementation of a Blind Quality Control Program in Blood Alcohol Analysis

J Anal Toxicol. 2019 Sep 10;43(8):630-636. doi: 10.1093/jat/bkz059.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Blood Alcohol Content*
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Forensic Toxicology* / methods
  • Forensic Toxicology* / standards
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Quality Control*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Specimen Handling* / methods
  • Specimen Handling* / standards


  • Blood Alcohol Content