Analysis of Vanillin (Vanilla Extract) in the Reporting of a Bespoke Alcohol Assessment
Finding the source of ethanol consumed in complex child-care proceedings.
An independent laboratory (routinely used in the assessment of alcohol consumption in child-case proceedings) tested a scalp hair sample taken from the client for alcohol-use biomarkers and opined that there was no evidence to suggest chronic or excessive alcohol consumption during the testing period.
However, subsequent testing from this company during the month immediately following the release of these results found significantly increased levels of the primary marker of alcohol consumption (EtG) in the more recent results.
Consequently, FTS were instructed to provide a second opinion on the client’s likely frequency of alcohol consumption during the entire period covered by the previous two tests.
These assessments are typically made by analysing the level of alcohol-use biomarkers, which are formed in the body following the consumption of ethanol. However, the primary biomarker used in analysis (EtG) is extremely vulnerable to the removal effects of external influences, such as the use of hair dye, bleach and even regular hair washing.
FTS regularly provide assessments in context with these external factors by reporting all levels detected, even those which fall below the Society of Hair Testing’s recommended cut-offs. Therefore, the consideration of any influence hair dye and/or hair washing is likely to have made on the results is a routine analysis performed by FTS, and not the focal point in this particular case.
The primary complication of this case arises from the court’s requirement to assess the likely source of ethanol consumed.
Specifically, during the testing period, the client was a resident of a supervised living facility. Concerns were raised when over 30 bottles of vanilla extract were discovered in their living quarters.
Vanilla extract is known to contain ethanol and so, should this product be consumed at similar quantities to typical alcoholic beverages, this would induce the same physiological effects as alcohol consumption.
Therefore, FTS were instructed to test for the complete profile of alcohol-use biomarkers found in a ‘typical’ assessment of alcohol consumption in order to ascertain whether it was possible that the client was consuming alcohol during the period they lived in the supervised facility, and whether this consumption would have been excessive (an average of >55 units each week).
In addition, the instruction was to also test for the compound found in vanilla (vanillin) in order to assess whether the source of any alcohol the client may have consumed was in the form of vanilla extract.