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J Anal Toxicol. 2009 Oct;33(8):508-13.

Ethylene glycol and glycolic acid in postmortem blood from fatal poisonings.

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  • 1Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Albany Medical Center, Albany, New York, USA.


Ethylene glycol (EG), a relatively infrequent cause of fatal intoxication, presents an analytical challenge for forensic confirmation in postmortem toxicology. We report EG and glycolic acid (GA) quantification in postmortem blood by gas chromatography coupled with ion trap mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis using a modification of a previously reported clinical method. The method is linear from 50 to 4000 mg/L with a limit of detection of 25 mg/L for both EG and GA. Interassay coefficient of variation (2.1-8.6%, 4.3-6.0%) and accuracy (96-101%, 92-105%) were determined for EG and GA, respectively. EG concentration by ion trap GC-MS correlated closely (R(2) = 0.995) with EG quantified by GC-flame-ionization detection. Analysis of blood from 20 autopsies with no evidence of EG exposure did not reveal detectable EG or GA. In 12 medical examiner cases with EG poisoning as cause of death, EG concentrations ranged widely from 58 to 7790 mg/L with a mean of 1830 mg/L, and the GA concentration averaged 1360 mg/L with a narrower range of 810-1770 mg/L. EG and GA levels correlate poorly (R(2) = 0.15) in postmortem blood with discordantly low EG concentrations in two cases. Birefringent oxylate crystals in renal tissue was a consistent finding. In conclusion, a sensitive and specific GC-MS method for detection and quantification of EG and GA has been validated and a study of fatal EG poisonings revealed forensic application of the method.

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