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"Snow Globes: Innocent Souvenir or Potential Terrorist Threat?"

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Chicago Snow Globe

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Recent terrorist attempts by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day 2009 during a Northwest Airline flight and by suspect Faisal Shahzad's attempted car bombing in Times Square on May 1 highlight the need for increased vigilance by both law enforcement and by citizens.

Where do you draw the line regarding protecting public security vs. individual freedom?

My flight this weekend from Chicago's O'Hare airport to Newark is but one example of the increasing awareness of potential threats, and underscores why each of us should not allow fear to impede our everyday activities.

In a hurry to return home after a business trip, I packed souvenirs for my children in my carry-on for the flight. To my surprise [I should have known better!], one of the souvenirs became an object of scrutiny by a security guard as he examined the ghostly image on the monitor of the X-ray scanner.

"Excuse me, sir. What is that?"

"A snow globe." I responded, as I remembered the gift, about 3" in diameter with an image of the Chicago skyline embossed at the base.

"I need you to remove it from the bag for confiscation."

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Panic began to rise within me, as I imagined how my daughter, a 2nd grader, would react as I told her that the gift which she was eagerly anticipating for her collection had to be thrown in the trash, as a potential threat to national security.

I explained the situation to the security guard, and he patiently responded, as if he had spoken these lines many times before, "Your options are that you can allow us to test the liquid inside, which will require us to break the globe. Even if it were tested, it will likely contain antifreeze, a liquid that is not permitted onboard. You could also collect your bag, and a security guard will escort you back to the check-in area, so that you can check it."

To save the fate of this special snow globe, I returned to check-in. After an extended wait and paying an extra $25 for the checked bag, I returned to the security area, wondering whether the fragile gift would survive the trip from the belly of the airplane to back home.

What is the potential threat of this kitschy item? Why the concern about antifreeze? It contains ethylene glycol, which is quite stable and not explosive, but could constitute a risk of poisoning.

Recent news coverage of "bottle bombs" could explain the heightened awareness of the potential danger of two or three ounces of liquid, even if sealed in a snow globe.

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Admittedly, I may have been naïve if not harried to have expected this innocent snow globe to travel with me. After all, an article in The New York Times in early 2007 foretold such vagaries of travel. And I was negligent by not checking the Transportation Safety Administration website for prohibited items before departing. Did you know that gel inserts for shoes are on the same list?

I would rather be safe than sorry, and I appreciate the keen eye of the security guard. Is it not sad that we are faced with such cold realities?

Regardless, in the future I will consider shipping my gifts and not worry about it. If we allow budding terrorists to slow us down or to instill fear, we are giving them exactly what they seek.


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Jeffrey H. Toney is Dean of the College of Natural, Applied and Health Sciences at Kean University and is a Trusted Author at OpEdNews. He received a B.S. in Chemistry at the University of Virginia and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemistry at Northwestern (more...)

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