Airport security confuses moisturizer for explosive

A woman boarding her flight with a prescription moisturizer containing ammonium lactate was stopped for the Explosives Trace Detection Test three times in a row – as reported in a case published in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

She was prescribed the ammonium lactate cream for dry skin as a result of her anti-estrogen therapy for cancer.

When she “carried her prescribed 385-mL bottle of ammonium lactate, 12%, cream in the standard 1-quart plastic bag, clearly labeled with the appropriate prescription information”, she got pulled for an Explosives Trace Detection Test.

The second time she went through airport security, they got more thorough and gave her a full-body pat-down, took a sample of her moisturizer…and did another Explosives Trace Detection Test.

The third time she put her moisturizer in her check-in luggage. When she landed, her suitcase had a card letting her know that security opened it to perform another Explosives Trace Detection Test.

The authors of this case speculated that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confused ammonium lactate for the explosive ammonium nitrate.

Bottom line

  • The authors pointed out that “Current procedures direct patients to alert TSA prior to their travel date and obtain approved labeling to minimize discomfort and stress.”
  • In translation: If you have a prescription for ammonium lactate, call TSA every time before you fly. But granted, that might be a bit excessive.
  • For simplicity’s sake, I sure hope a doctor’s note would suffice for this kind of thing eventually.

Source case report: Zarbo A, et al. JAMA Dermatol. Published online: August 3, 2016. A paid subscription may be required.

Photo adapted from original by Pavel Kazachkov, used under license.

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