The Forensic Chemistry Section
Christopher P. Montagna, MS
The Forensic Chemistry Section of the Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory has a rich tradition, dating back to the early 1950’s. In 1954, Robert Ericson helped establish the Toxicology Unit in the Chemistry Section under the old Division of Sanitary Engineering. Over the course of his 30-year career, Mr. Ericson developed a program that provided services for numerous local police departments, federal agencies, the Maine Department of Public Safety and the Maine State Police.
The tradition established by Robert Ericson continues today. The Forensic/Chemistry Section is comprised of four units: Drug Chemistry, Human Toxicology, Harness Racing and Radiochemistry.
Whether performing alcohol analyses, intoxilyzer calibration checks, identifying controlled substances, analyzing samples for radon or illegal drugs in harness racing samples the Forensic/Chemistry Sections provide the professional expertise necessary to meet our mission to provide quality, timely and comprehensive analysis of submissions, no matter if it is from a crime related incident or an air sample from a private home.
Forensic Chemistry Section:
After five years of hard work and preparation, the Forensic Chemistry Section of the Maine Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory received accreditation from The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB) on December 13, 2004 in the areas of Controlled Substances and Toxicology (blood alcohol and urine drugs).
ASCLD/LAB offers accreditation to forensic laboratories that exhibit strict compliance to a large number of rigorous quality standards. The accreditation program is voluntary and open to any crime laboratory. The program’s criteria address all areas of the laboratory’s operations including management, personnel training and qualifications, technical operations, evidence handling, proficiency testing, lab security, and health and safety. Compliance to these standards is assessed through a comprehensive and thorough inspection performed by an external team of ASCLD/LAB trained inspectors.
Drug Chemistry Unit
The Drug Chemistry Section identifies controlled substances seized by law enforcement officers. The evidence analyzed is usually presented in the form of pills, powders and plant material. The scientists in this section use sophisticated instruments and techniques to identify various drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, LSD and heroin.
Testing methods for the identification of controlled substances include: a series of color and microscopic tests; thin layer chromatography; infrared spectrophotometry; and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.
Chemists provide expert witness testimony, presenting and defending their findings in Courts throughout the State of Maine.
The Toxicology Unit is responsible the analysis of blood and urine samples. Blood samples are analyzed for the presence of alcohol and the alcohol level present in the sample is determined by gas chromatography.
Urine samples are screened for the presence of drugs. If the urine sample is positive on the screening test, an attempt to identify and confirm the presence of the drug is made using a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer.
In addition, the unit maintains the State’s intoxilyzer program and performs calibration checks on the instruments to insure the Intoxilyzers are functioning properly. The section also conducts necessary repairs to the Intoxilyzer instruments and provides yearly on-site inspections of all the States Intoxilyzers.
Harness Racing Section
The Harness Racing Section analyzes urine and blood samples taken from the winning horse and randomly selected finishers from every harness race in Maine. The unit supports the State’s rules concerning the medication of racehorses, which prohibits all foreign or non-prescribed substances in racehorses. All urine and blood samples are subjected to a series of tests to isolate and screen for suspected drugs. Any positive samples are then analyzed and an attempt to identify and confirm the presence of the drug is made using a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer.
The unit also analyzes urine samples collected from randomly chosen drivers for the presence of drugs of abuse. All urine samples are screened using an immunoassy method. Suspected drugs in the urine are confirmed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometery. The section participates in quality assurance programs established the by Association of Official Racing Chemists (AORC).
The Radiochemistry Section analyzes a variety of environmental samples to detect both man-made and naturally occurring radioactive material. The unit uses state-of-the-art equipment capable of measuring alpha, beta and gamma radiation. In many cases the unit is capable of identifying the specific isotope present in the sample.
One of the sections function is monitoring the Maine Yankee Atomic Power Plant. The unit is involved in a program of environmental surveillance, which began before the plant became operational and will continue through the decommissioning when all fuel is removed from the site and for several years thereafter.
The unit conducts radon testing both in air and water by liquid scintillation, and analyzes water samples for gross alpha levels. The latter program is to assure compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. The section holds accreditation through NELAC and the EPA.
Please visit radiation.htm for a Radiation Test Guide and Application Form .