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Breath Results Affected by a Chili Dog

Posted on June 27, 2010 in Breath Alcohol Testing

If you are like me, the idea of a chili dog is both exciting and terrifying. I would have difficulty arguing with someone who took the position that a chili dog is not the most delicious food ever invented. However, thanks to acid reflux, the chalky taste of the Tums I need to take afterwards tends to put a damper on that culinary indulgence.

Many Americans have various degrees of acid reflux, but did you know that acid reflux can cause the machine commonly used in a breath test for alcohol in parts of Arizona (called the Intoxilyzer 8000) to artificially inflate the results of your breath test? That’s right! The same machine that police departments in the cities of Tempe, Goodyear, Surpriseand Buckeye, as well as Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS), Salt River Police Department and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, present to juries as infallible evidence can produce elevated blood alcohol results from acid reflux.

The breath test machine equates the molecules of alcohol breathed into the machine to the amount of alcohol in that person’s blood stream. The breath test machine supposedly measures the amount of EtOH (abbreviation for ethanol or the alcohol that we drink) molecules that are breathed into it. The breath test machine then multiplies that figure by thepartition ratio (or the estimated relationship between alcohol in your blood and alcohol that you breath out) in order to present the results in g/ 210 liters (the required reading).

So how could a chili dog artificially inflate your breath test result? If you have acid reflux, the sphincter that locks down the contents of your stomach doesn’t quite close, meaning that small amounts of the contents of your stomach can come up. If you had a beer with your chili dog, the breath test machine might think that the molecules coming out ofyour stomach as a result of acid reflux were actually breathed out of your lungs. In other words, the machine is counting too many alcohol molecules. Suddenly, someone with a legal or very low blood alcohol content (BAC) is reported as having a very high BAC. As a result, the breath test machine just accused an innocent person of being DUI. Just some foodfor thought.

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