Use of hand sanitizer can produce false-positive breathalyzer results
February 27, 2013, 9:17 pm
Common Hand Sanitizer May Distort Readings of Breathalyzer Tests in the Absence of Acute Intoxication. Ali SS et al. Acad Emerg Med 2013 Feb;20:212-215
The goal of this clever study was to determine if use of ethanol-based hand sanitizer by an operator administering a breathalyzer test affected results. Participants reported not consuming ethanol in the previous 24 hours, and had initial breathalyzer readings of zero on an Alco-Sensor III breathalyzer device. There were 3 study groups of 25 subjects each:
- Group 1: Operator applied one pump (1.5 ml) Purell Hand Sanitizer (62% ethanol) to his/her hands and rubbed hands until dry.
- Group 2: Operator applied one pump Purell and performed test before it dried.
- Group 3: Operator applied two pumps (3.0 ml) Purell and performed test before it dried.
Results were as follows:
- Group 1: breathalyzer results ranged from 0.000 to 0.016 g/dL.(median 0.004)
- Group 2: breathalyzer results ranged from 0.020 to 0.109 g/dL (median 0.051)
- Group 3: breathalyzer results ranged from 0.020 to 0.166 g/dL (median 0.119)
The authors conclude:
The use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can cause false-positive readings of a breathalyzer when the operator uses the hand sanitizer correctly. The breathalyzer readings are further elevated if more sanitizer is used or if it is not allowed to dry appropriately.
This is useful information. Although the results in Group 1 would not be clinically significant, some of the subjects in Group 2 and most in Group 3 had false-positive results above the legal limit.