NEWS

Hand cream gives false positive during airport explosives test, woman says

02/18/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 04/19/2015 05:59 EDT
Dr. Eva Mate says she tested positive for gunpowder during a random hand scan at Pearson International Airport and believes her hand cream may have been the cause of the false alarm.

The Toronto woman said she was leaving for a vacation in Chile several weeks ago when she was randomly selected for explosive trace detection testing. 

Mate told CBC News she was flabbergasted by the positive result and now worries she'll be placed on a security watch list.

"I have never handled a gun in my life," she said.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority says it performs the test on a random basis, swabbing carry-on baggage, laptop, shoes, clothing or hands.

In Mate's case, she said she tested 25 per cent positive for gunpowder. Airport security officers searched her bags, checked her passport and asked her a series of questions before clearing her to travel.

Rattled, Mate turned to Google and discovered an American woman with a similar story and a common factor between them: glycerine, which is found in some explosives. Mate said she frequently uses Herbalind Glycerin Hand Cream.

Glycerine common in cosmetics

"It's possible she tested positive for glycerine as it's quite common in day to day products such as cosmetics, medicine, etc.," security authority spokesman Mathieu Larocque said in an email.  

Larocque said he could not speak specifically about Mate's results for security reasons, but they have procedures in place to resolve false alarms quickly. In this case, the additional screening took 13 minutes including queuing, he said.

If the alarm isn't resolved, security officials can request the police, he said.

David Hyde, an independent security consultant in Toronto, said it's not clear how much information is gathered by airport security officials during screening.

People who have false positives "may well be screened again," he said.

"They may well be asked questions again. One would hope, of course, that if it's someone that hasn't anything to hide and hasn't done anything wrong that it will be quite an unobtrusive process." 

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