Gasoline additive interferes with alcohol breath analyzers

to the studys results, MTBE presented a positive interference on the older Breathalyzer. However, even for the most extreme exposures, this interference would not be sufficiently high enough to register a false positive unless it occurred in addition to alcohol consumption. Alcohol mixed with a modest dose of MTBE, similar to the exposure received from the refueling of a car, was not sufficient to create a false positive reading. Only high exposure to MTBE coupled with alcohol was able to create a false positive reading of legal intoxication.

The researchers were unable to create a false positive reading with the newer more advanced Alcotest. This instrument successfully identified the interference invalidating the test.

The Breathalyzer may not be accurate under the most extreme conditions. Occupational exposure to MTBE would need to be considered in any case where this older breath-alcohol analyzer is used to determine legal intoxication especially now that many states are lowering the standard for intoxication to .08 blood alcohol level. We need to anticipate both the socio-legal and public health implications associated with the introduction of new chemicals into consumer products where there is potential for such widespread human exposure, adds Dr. Buckley.


Contact: Tim Parsons or Ming Tai
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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