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Breath Toxin Detector

October 25, 2011

Advances in technology have made it possible to develop a hand-held breath test for a wide range of toxic chemicals.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Testing breath for toxins.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

People today are exposed to more and more chemical pollutants.  In a recent report, Virginia Tech engineers Andrea Dietrich, Masoud Agah, and their colleagues say that our breath may be the best place to start looking for these toxins.  New technologies are making this feasible.  For example, Dietrich’s team has developed chemical traps that can isolate traces of organic molecules from large amounts of water vapor, like you’d find in breath.

ANDREA DIETRICH (Virginia Polytechnic Institute):

And then we can flash-heat those traps to a few hundred degrees centigrade, quickly absorb the compounds in a really tight little slug,  and then analyze them using conventional equipment.

HIRSHON:

There are still obstacles – for example, learning to distinguish real signs of danger from normal variations in what we exhale.  Still, Dietrich is optimistic that breath tests will help save lives cheaply and easily in the years ahead. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.