The New Neo-Prohibitionist Hysteria: Palcohol

The New Neo-Prohibitionist Hysteria: Palcohol

palcohol

The momentarily approved, then rescinded label for Palcohol, by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)

If you are involved in the science of ethanol or DUI or enforcement of either, it is hard to escape the sensational stories on a “new” product called Palcohol. You know it has reached new levels of hysteria when it reaches The Today Show chatter box show.

Let’s look at the science of Palcohol and not the hype.

Q: What is it?

A: In a nutshell, it is really simple an inelegant. It is dehydrated carbonated starch that allows for EtOH plus flavors to “stick” to it during the process. The resultant CO added makes it a preservative so it will last stably in this form for a long time.

When water is later added there is release of the EtOH and the flavors that were “stuck” to the starch base with a great deal of recovery. This ethanol containing solution, they call chemically bound water. If you have ever seen a dry sponge and a wet sponge, this is basically all it is. For those of you who are science geeks like me, here are 2 examples of how it can work:

Example 4.-Anhydrous ethanol-sorbed gelatinized tapioca starch An aqueous slurry of tapioca starch granules was dehydrated by means of suitable filtration to a wet starch cake having a moisture content of about 45%. The wet starch cake, in suitable cornminuted form, was simultaneously gelatinized and dehydrated by being passed between two heated rotating drying rollers having a sufficient temperature to produce a dried gelatinized tapioca starch having a moisture content of about 9%. The resulting commercially dry gelatinized starch was then subjected to a flash-drying operation wherein the 9% moisture tapioca starch particles were suspended in a dry atmosphere under proper temperature conditions to cause the removal of substantially all of the remaining moisture content. The resulting substantially anhydrous tapioca starch was transferred, in a suspended state, thru an anhydrous sealed chamber possessing the necessary means for avoiding the presence of moisture vapor. After the anhydrous tapioca starch was cooled to 140 F., anhydrous ethanol vapors were brought into contact with the anhydrous tapioca starch. This resulted in a sorbed anhydrous tapioca starch product that contained 11% of ethanol, based upon the weight of the starch.

Various other dehydrating procedures could be used for removing the remaining moisture from commercial starch containing 5 to 12% moisture. Examples are drying by various means such as high vacuum, freeze-drying, infrared, or dehydration with removable desiccants.

Anhydrous gelatinized starch solids have been found to be more efficient sorbents for certain food flavor vapors than anhydrous non-gelatinized starch or corn syrup solids. For certain food uses, adsorption compounds obtained from anhydrous gelatinized starch and food flavor vapors are advantageous because, simultaneously with the presence of the sorbed food flavor vapor, there is provided a starch colloid that is capable of creating a partial gel when suspended or partially dissolved in water.

 

Example 5.Anhydrous reconstitutable alcoholic beverage powder It has been found that eflicient sorbable anhydrous polysaccharides create a novel tool for producing readily reconstitutable dry beverage powders. Anhydrous modified starch products, particularly the corn syrup solids or roll gelatinized starch solids types are preferred for this type of application.

One example of a novel exploitation in this area is the production of a reconstitutable alcoholic beverage, namely beer powder. A barley malt containing 4.2% moisture was extracted with anhydrous ethanol. This produced an alcoholic extract containing some of the flavor, aroma and color principles of barley malt. A beer hop extract was obtained by extracting the ethereal oils of the hops with anhydrous ethanol. This produced an alcoholic solution of the bitter principles of beer hops which consists mostly of humulone and its transition products. The alcoholic extracts of the barley malt and hops were then mixed, and contacted with a desiccant such as activated alumina to remove any remaining moisture. The resulting anhydrous alcoholic extract was vaporized and the anhydrous vapors brought into contact with substantially anhydrous corn syrup solids. During the sorption of the vaporized alcoholic extract mixture by the substantially anhydrous corn syrup solids, anhydrous carbon dioxide was introduced. There resulted an adsorption compound consisting of corn syrup solids containing, in percent by weight of carbohydrate solids, 7% of ethanol, 4% of CO and 3.5% of a mixture of the ethanol-extractable flavor and aroma principles of barley malt and hops.

The resulting dry reconstitutable alcoholic beverage can be used either alone or in the form of blends with other sugars or malt extract materials as a beer base. If anhydrous malt syrup solids are substituted for corn syrup solids, a dry reconstitutable beer powder is obtained which more closely approaches the taste and flavor of regular beer. Various combinations or omissions in the aforesaid beverage powder can be practiced, depending upon the particular objective which is being sought. Thus, the carbon dioxide may be omitted from the beer powder and various beer constituents, in the dry form, can be blended with the basic anhydrous beer powder. Examples of blending materials which can be used to modify or influence the finished taste or flavor of the reconstitutable beer powder are soluble proteins, polypeptides, amino acids, or dry flavoring materials such as citric acid.

Q: Is it a new form of ethanol?

A: No. This is an old idea. The concept dates back to the space race and the time of Tang and dehydrated foods. The very first mention of this type of powdered ethanol product that is found in patent law is in the 1964 patent that was applied for by Harold E Bode. It can be found here: Preparation of an alcoholic dry beverage powder-US 3436224 A It was granted in 1969. So only if you think Tang is “new” should you think that Palcohol is new.

Later in the 1970s, according to the art (what patent lawyers call their body of work), General Foods looked to do something similar but a little different and recorded several patents.

US3956508 * Feb 28, 1974 May 11, 1976 General Foods Corporation Alcohol-containing dextrin powder
US3956509 * Feb 28, 1974 May 11, 1976 General Foods Corporation Alcohol-containing dextrin powder
US3956511 * Feb 28, 1974 May 11, 1976 General Foods Corporation Alcohol-containing dextrin powder
US3975547 * May 15, 1974 Aug 17, 1976 General Foods Corporation Process of making a dry-free-flowing beverage mix and product

So again, unless only if you think that bell bottoms and disco are new should you think that Palohol is new. There this new idea sat dormant until the 1990s and the new millennium.

Again, the art shows us the following a little later:

DE19500919A1 * Jan 13, 1995 Jul 18, 1996 Krueger Gmbh & Co Kg Alkoholhaltige Instant-Getränkemischung, ihre Herstellung und Verwendung
WO2013006206A1 * Jul 2, 2012 Jan 10, 2013 Schlakman Lori A novel method of making cocktails using tablets, a novel method of selling alcohol, and a novel kit.

According to the US Patent Office,

For applications filed on or after June 8, 1995, utility and plant patents are granted for a term which begins with the date of the grant and usually ends 20 years from the date you first applied for the patent subject to the payment of appropriate maintenance fees. Design patents last 14 years from the date you are granted the patent. Note: Patents in force on June 8 and patents issued thereafter on applications filed prior to June 8, 1995 automatically have a term that is the greater of the twenty year term discussed above or seventeen years from the patent grant.

So there is little mystery why this “old” technology and method gained new popularity and why recently a really smart person named Mark Philips looked to commercialize it.

Q: But the government approved it?

A: Well, that is what the media ran with and I am not surprised that this is what most people think of it now. In complete truth the issue surrounds the labeling. Since 1791, our federal government has taxed ethanol based products that are designed for human consumption. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is a bureau under the Department of the Treasury. Part of the process in America for legally selling ethanol and ethanol related products is to get approval for the labeling from the TTB for whatever you are going to sell that contains ethanol that is intended for human consumption. And that is precisely what happened. A label was approved. However, according to Palcohol’s website:

We are excited by the approval of our powdered alcohol product, Palcohol. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) actually approved it some time ago. However, we were caught off guard by the TTB making some of our approved labels public which we now know is standard procedure. As a result, people visited this website that we thought was under the radar because we had not made a formal announcement of Palcohol.

Q: I heard the government banned it.

A: According to published reports the rescinding has nothing to do with the product or its safety, but rather has to do with the amount of powder that actually is in the product itself. So, the company will have to resubmit the label with the correction which is what happens a lot with the TTB. All administrative decisions are always open for review, so who knows.

Q: There is a large potential for abuse such as snorting and it is very, very powerful stuff.

A: Any form of ethanol can be abused. A great many people are addicted to ethanol. This form is not any more addictive than the next. Your body treats all ethanol the same. Even Neo-Prohibitionists have to give the Palcohol people some credit. According to what I have read in the art and in the industry, the company was concerned about snorting. Even though the company is very clear it should not be insufflated, it went one step further. It added a lot of volume to the ethanol powder. In increasing the volume present, and the lack of topical anesthetics such as lidocaine in its mix, it will likely be very painful to snort. It is not super highly concentrated in terms of its ethanol content by weight (labeled only as 58%). As a result, it is too much to snort for far too little gain. However, if you are crazy enough and enough is snorted by your super nose, the absorption of the Palcohol into your system will be much quicker. All insufflation results in quicker adsorption. The quicker absorption will lead to a quicker effect on the Central Nervous System. It will not intensify the effects. Again, ethanol is ethanol.

There should be a concern both economically and also sociologically with this product.It should be debated.

This product makes ethanol much, much more portable. In addition to reactionary Neo-Prohibitionists, three groups of folks will likely be against it:

  1. the American Beverage Institute which is the restaurant and bar lobby,
  2. those who are legitimately concerned about underage drinking and its enforcement such as educational institutions, and finally
  3. those concerned with Drug Facility Sexual Assaults (DFSA).

Because of its extreme portability, it will be easy to sneak into night clubs and restaurants. Why not pay for a $3 cranberry juice instead of the $14 mixed drink? Just bring the pouch and dump it in to save about $7 per serving. That will cause bars and restaurants to loose a lot of money. Sports stadiums too.

The portability will make it easier for those underage drinkers to avoid detection. A six pack of beer is large in comparison to 2 or 3 pouches of this material. It is tough to be a parent these days and this may make it tougher. But then again, studies show that it is much easier for underage people to obtain prescription or even illicit drugs and use them than ethanol. I don’t see anything in this product that will likely change that reality.

Those concerned about DFSA will be concerned as this can be slipped into an unsuspecting person’s beverage or his or her food. While this is true, this is not like the proverbial “Mickey” that we see in a movie. When reconstituted according to the label, it is only 24 proof (12% ethanol by volume or ABV) which in its proper context is more than beer, more than standard wine, and only slightly more than classical fortified wine (such as Port, Sherry)  which is 14% to 22% ABV. It is far less than hard liquor which typically starts at 40% ABV. There are a few commercially available rums and whiskies that creep up to 43 or 46% ABV. Some “Cask Strength” whiskies and some Bourbon will go to 50% ABV and then there is Bicardi 151 (75% ABV) and grain alcohol (90% ABV). Currently, it is labeled as 58% alcohol by weight or 12% alcohol by volume (24 proof).

Q: It’s out now.

A: Nope. Again, the label hasn’t even been finally approved. I am sure the company is in talks with distributors, but from the looks of the company, it is a start-up with a smart person in the lead. It is one thing to have a product for sale, but it doesn’t matter if you cannot distribute it once it is made. So, unless the company sells out to one of the bigger vendors in the industry, it will not likely make a sustained push in the market. In fact, according to the website they are not looking for mom-and-pop places to sell it now. So, the infrastructure is not there yet.

Q: What is the future for this product?

A: If I had my guess, unless a major vendor buys it and develops it, it is likely doomed to be banned by state legislatures. You may recall the last fad in ethanol that came about: inhaled ethanol vapor or “smoking alcohol.” Just like that product, this product is way too hot to touch at the moment from an investment point of view. The media has sensationalized it. Accordingly, I fully expect a rash of Neo-Prohibitionist hysteria that will lend to state legislatures banning this product despite the science. Quite frankly, I am surprised that some attention grabbing Congressman or Congresswoman hasn’t yet jumped on the Neo-Prohibitionist bandwagon and demanded hearings. Maybe that will happen tomorrow.

Will we see headlines like this again with Palcohol?

 

Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014 advances

Forensic Science reform is a hot topic. With the NIST OSAC efforts and many AAFS talks over the subject, it seems everyone has a solution. Last Congress, Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller IV, the Senior Senator from West Virginia a     Democrat introduced his vision. It has been amended over the year as all bills are. It has made it out of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee in the Senate. The committees assigned to this bill sent it to the House or Senate as a whole for consideration on April 9, 2014. According to govtack.us, it has 28% chance of being enacted.

 

You can read the current version here:  Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014:

2014-04-15_2207

It is a short 19 page read. The main thrust of the bill is to fund research in forensic science as well as to establish and fund a standards development organization. It will contract with the National Science Foundation to identify “the most critical forensic science disciplines…that require further research to strengthen the scientific foundation in those disciplines.” There will be a stand alone National Forensic Science Coordinating Office (NFSCO). The NFSCO will establish two Forensic Science Research Centers (FSRC) in the US to conduct research and educate. There will also be a Forensic Science Advisory Committee. There is also language recommending the promotion of accreditation and certification.

In the bill, we see the following funding for the FSRC:

Authorization of appropriations

There are authorized to be appropriated to the National Science Foundation to carry out this section—

(1) $37,000,000 for fiscal year 2014;
(2) $40,000,000 for fiscal year 2015;
(3) $43,000,000 for fiscal year 2016;
(4) $46,000,000 for fiscal year 2017; and
(5) $49,000,000 for fiscal year 2018.
For the standards development organization, the following is the slated monies:

Authorization of appropriations

There are authorized to be appropriated to the National Institute of Standards and Technology to carry out this section—

(1)$12,000,000 for fiscal year 2014;
(2)$20,000,000 for fiscal year 2015;
(3)$27,000,000 for fiscal year 2016;
(4)$35,000,000 for fiscal year 2017; and
(5)$43,000,000 for fiscal year 2018.
 

photo credit: NIST

“This is a broad call across the entire forensic science community. The forensic science community includes practitioners, research scientists, measurement scientists, accreditation and certification specialists, statisticians, human factors specialists, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges.”

-Mark Stolorow, Director of NIST OSAC (April 14, 2014 phone conversation with Justin McShane)

 

 

many positions to fill at the OSAC

There are many positions to fill in the OSAC structure-graphic from John Paul Jones II (NIST)

 

In the past I have frequently compared the state of the modern practice of forensic science to The Wild Wild West including this quote that was featured in the Boston Globe when the Annie Dookhan scandal hit:

[F]orensic science is like the “wild, wild west.” Just like in the bygone days of the wild wild west, in forensic science today there is a lack of the rule of law, some vigilantes, some rough characters who are up to no good who lie, cheat, and steal exist. There is a lack of standards in terms of behavior or process. Life back then was indeed nasty, brutish and short. Back then, just like today, the innocent got swept up in it all. It was a dangerous place to be that Wild Wild West. Being judged (guilty or not guilty or life versus death) by forensic science in America today is a very shaky proposition. It is getting better, but this modern day wild wild west has yet to be tamed.

I was very skeptical with the DOJ/NIST approach to taming this Wild Wild West initially as you can read in this post:

Let the great whitewash begin: The National Forensic Science Commission

I still have grave reservations about the NFSC. I have practically none about the vision of the NIST OSAC.

After attending in-person the 2014 AAFS/NIST news conference, I was fully converted. It is with the OSACs where the nuts and bolts will be handled: the real science. You can read about here:

Why you should be impressed with the NIST OSAC structure: The taming of the Wild Wild West

Well, sign-ups start today as noted below.

It’s like voting. If you don’t vote, then you cannot legitimately complain.

If you don’t put your name in for consideration by the NIST OSAC, then you likewise cannot legitimately complain.

Get involved.

Unlike the NFSC application process, the NIST OSAC process is very streamlined and simple: NIST Organization of Scientific Area Committees Membership Application

We will see what the end result of the NIST OSAC efforts are. I am hopeful that it will not be as political as the NFSC. Time will tell. It was also quite clear from the presentation at the 2014 AAFS what I termed in the past as “SWG-OLD” meaning the tendency of the SWGs to be populated by historical people who are anointed into their positions in the SWGs simply by existing on the planet earth for longer than anyone rather than current merit, and the absence of young and emerging leaders in the community. According to the press conference at 2014 AAFS, everyone will have to apply.

It is vitally important to note that this is not just for forensic scientists.

At the 2014 AAFS meeting, Mark Stolorow, Director of NIST OSAC, and John Paul Jones II, Assistant Director of NIST OSAC, wanted to make sure that forensic scientists know that there are potentially over 400 positions available for forensic scientists as well as spots for lawyers and judges particularly in Legal Resource Committee as noted below:

Legal Resource Committee

Authority:

Provide input throughout the OSAC on legal issues related to standards

Duties:

  1. Provides guidance about the legal ramifications of forensic science standards; specific items will include the meaningful presentation of forensic science results to the legal system
  2. Participates and consults with SACs or subcommittees as needed to address legal issues
  3. Observes work in progress to identify areas with legal ramifications
  4. Reviews and provides legal perspective relative to standards and guidelines submitted to SACs and/or FSSB for approval including impact of expert testimony and admissibility issues
  5. Provides guidance to subcommittees on the development of standards (e.g. admissibility review, potential Brady issues)
  6. Adopts a Professional Code of Ethical Conduct for the presentation of scientific evidence
  7. Evaluates conflict of interest of FSSB, SAC and subcommittee members and makes recommendations to the FSSB
  8. Communicates and liaises with the legal community and related professional organizations

Membership and Leadership:

The Legal Resource Committee will consist of up to ten members representing the legal community, i.e. judges, lawyers (prosecution and defense) and other experts.

The Legal Resource Committee Chair shall perform the following duties:

  1. Provide leadership and preside over meetings
  2. Appoint task group chairs and task group members as needed.

A NIST-DOJ membership committee will select the initial Legal Resource Committee members and chair.

Here is the press release from NIST:

Calling Forensic Scientists: Apply Now to Join the NIST Organization of Scientific Area Committees

April 11, 2014

Contact:John Paul Jones
301-975-2782

USIwantYouposterThe application process for positions in the new NIST Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) is now open. NIST is welcoming members of the forensic science, criminal justice and academic research communities to serve as committee and subcommittee members. Applications will be accepted through an online form until 11:59 PM EDT, Sunday, May 11, 2014.

NIST is establishing OSAC to strengthen forensic science by supporting the development of standards and guidelines to ensure accuracy of methods and practices in the nation’s crime laboratories.

OSAC will consist of a Forensic Science Standards Board, three resource committees, five scientific area committees and 23 subcommittees. NIST needs between 500 and 600 subject matter experts representing a balance of experience and perspectives to serve on OSAC. An OSAC term will be three years, although the initial appointees will serve terms of two, three or four years so that subsequent members are appointed on a staggered basis.

Please go to the OSAC Roles and Responsibilities page to review the roles and responsibilities of each membership category of OSAC. Please go to the application form to apply for membership.

For more information about OSAC, go to the main OSAC webpage on the NIST Forensic Science website.

 

I recently had a prosecutor in an arson case state out loud in court, “Your Honor, crime scenes are never ever contaminated by investigators. Not accidentally, and certainly not on purpose.” Where do you start with that sort of statement?

Perhaps you start with Fred Zane, Joyce Gilchrist, and others.

But most recently is this case study….

CSI Chief David Kofoed Guilty on Evidence Tampering Charge

A judge has convicted Douglas County’s chief crime-scene investigator on an evidence tampering charge.

Kofoed’s sentencing date is set for May 10th. He is facing a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison.

Cass County District Judge Randall Rehmeier announced his verdict Tuesday morning in the case of David Kofoed.

Kofoed stood trial last week in Cass County where he investigated a double murder in 2006. Kofoed said he found a speck of a victim’s blood in a car linked to two suspects. Prosecutors argue he planted or manufactured the evidence to bolster a case against the two men, who were later cleared of murder charges.

Kofoed’s attorney argued accidental cross-contamination, not sinister motives, explains how his client’s test came up positive while searching the car for blood evidence.