The Science of Alcohol Testing
The Science of Alcohol Testing Podcast
A New Paradigm for Breath Alcohol Testing with Dr. Joseph Anderson
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A New Paradigm for Breath Alcohol Testing with Dr. Joseph Anderson

I talk with Dr. Joseph Anderson about how breath alcohol testing may be unfair to people with smaller lungs and those who provide more volume into the device.

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Yesterday, I spoke with Dr. Joseph Anderson about how breath alcohol testing actually works.

Dr. Joseph Anderson is the owner of Anderson Bioscience, a biotechnology consulting company, and an Affiliate Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington.  He has a PhD in chemical engineering and has published over 50 peer-reviewed publications and three book chapters.  

Dr. Anderson explains that for too long, it has been assumed that breath alcohol testing measures the alcohol exchange taking place in the alveolus (aka deep lung air). But he says that the majority of the gas exchange takes place in the airways and membranes leading to the lungs.

We discuss the implications of the new paradigm and what it means for breath alcohol testing. For one, it biases those with smaller lungs; and two it means that those who blow more volume than average will have a higher breath alcohol concentration than those who stop after the minimums sample parameters have been achieved.

Topics we cover:

  • Research concerning gas exchange in the lungs

  • Gas exchange in the lung:  Old vs. New Paradigm

    • Old paradigm:  All gases exchange in alveoli

    • The location of gas exchange in the lungs depends on solubility in the blood

    • New paradigm: High blood soluble gases (alcohol) exchange in airways

  • The consequence of the new paradigm: 

    • Exhaled air volume affects breath alcohol concentration

  • Acetone exchange in the lung

    • Endogenous production resulting from fat metabolism

    • Indicator of fat metabolism

    • Breath acetone measurement

    • Elevated in diabetes and greatly elevated in uncontrolled diabetes

  • Interfering substances:  Acetone and isopropanol

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