Liquid Ban Gone Weird

Swimming pools around Shanghai are checking liquids:

“Pool guests who bring these items must allow them to be opened and inspected. Security personnel will smell them to see whether they are safe or not,” a separate report posted on the city’s sport bureau’s website said (

The stupidity is beyond words.

Posted on June 23, 2008 at 1:05 PM58 Comments


Matt June 23, 2008 1:29 PM

I especially like the part about smelling it, to see if it’s dangerous. I guess if the security guard drops dead, then you know!

Nick Lancaster June 23, 2008 1:32 PM

I’m wondering how much of a toxin you’d have to introduce to a pool to be effective, not to mention overcome things like chlorination …

Rob June 23, 2008 1:40 PM

It’s just like the Homestar Runner “Cheat Commandos,” (GI Joe parody) who fight against “Blue Laser.” In one episode, Blue Laser is running operation “Blow Up the Ocean.”

pete June 23, 2008 1:54 PM

Has anyone verified that you can’t make poisons or explosives smell like shampoo and body wash?

DaveAronson June 23, 2008 2:12 PM

On top of all the obvious stupidity, they apparently don’t learn from the experience of others.

“Commuters carrying bottled drinks on Beijing’s subway were bemused last month when station workers began demanding they take a swig to prove they were not holding banned liquids like petrol.”

Remember the boy scout who got sick from taking the required swig of the sample of pond water?

Michael Ash June 23, 2008 2:22 PM

The Chinese are great with security theater in general. There are a lot of what might be called gated communities if they were in the US, and of course they all have a guard at the entrance. Unlike in the US, these guards never seem to do anything at all. You don’t sign in or tell them who you are or where you’re going or anything, they just stand or sit there all day watching the traffic. It’s weird! Maybe they intend to prevent crime through intimidation.

Rogue Medic June 23, 2008 2:38 PM

As you take the swig of the beverage, you say (in Chinese, of course), “I love the taste of Napalm in the morning. Tastes like . . . . Victory!” Now what do they do, arrest you for a twisted sense of humor?

Wesley June 23, 2008 3:08 PM

What you do not smell is Iocaine powder. It is odorless, tasteless, and dissolves instantly in liquid and is among the more deadly poisons known to man.

Anton June 23, 2008 4:13 PM

Went to the theater in Sydney and the woman in front of us was forced to part from her bottle of spring water she had in her hand bag as we passed the security screening whilst entering the building.


old guy June 23, 2008 4:14 PM

Chinese inspectors were smelling liquids on their national flights a few years ago. They had me open my bottle of water to do so, waving a cupped hand towards the nose over the bottle opening. We thought it a bit strange.

Billy June 23, 2008 4:17 PM

Does this mean I have to stop carrying a shampoo bottle full of ether with me to the pool?

derf June 23, 2008 4:24 PM

What would they do if the guard smelled something “unsafe”? Where do you go for this kind of olfactory training? Do the bomb sniffing dogs offer this training on their personal time for extra scooby snacks?

Jonas Grumby June 23, 2008 4:31 PM

@ Dave Aronson:

While the liquid ban may seem odd on the surface, it may not be as weird as we suspect.

I am friends with more than a handful of Army bomb techs (EOD, not engineers), and in speaking with them, it is very feasible to make a liquid explosive and get it into a plastic bottle (sealed, no less)….I’ve watched one of them do it (he also works for a .gov agency as a bomb tech).

While I am unsure what the Shanghai cops plan to look for in an instance like that, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Nico June 23, 2008 4:37 PM

oh noes! they blew up the pool.

but seriously, banning liquids but not solids or gases is just plain statist.

a June 23, 2008 5:33 PM

So the swimming pool has less than 100 ml or less than 3 oz water? Everyone must know by now that over 10 ml/3oz of ANY liquid is deadly dangerous.

Tony June 23, 2008 6:23 PM

Imagine the devastation if somebody hijacked a swimming pool and crashed it into a building!

Nick Lancaster June 23, 2008 6:32 PM


Well, there was an issue of Spider-Man where he tricks a villain using shockwaves into the pool, and the resonance sets up a massive wave that basically beats the bad guy up …

But, seriously, if it’s a toxic substance, and assuming it’s an actual toxin rather than a chemical explosive that needs to be detonated, could there be a more stupid form of security check than to ask the bearer to open the bottle?

old guy June 23, 2008 6:33 PM

I made a post earlier about the having my bottle water sniffed on a chinese national flight, but forgot to mention that the inspectors didn’t make me throw away the water. I was able to board with it. I kind of liked that…

Michael Ash June 23, 2008 6:38 PM

@old guy

You’ll no doubt be pleased to know that they have completely reversed their position on allowing liquids on planes now. They don’t allow any liquids through security, period. Not even a TSA-style exemption for small containers and medication. You check it in your luggage or you leave it at home.

wkwillis June 23, 2008 9:25 PM

I read a story where someone wiped out an apartment building by leaving the tap on in a sealed room. The room just filled up to above the yield strength of the building. So I suppose it’s possible.
One more for the movie threats contest!

JKB June 23, 2008 11:41 PM

Strangely, I am reminded of the final scene in “12 Monkeys”, the one where the bad guy opens the vial holding the virus for the airport screener to see it is harmless. The bad guy even waved it under the screener’s nose so he could smell it. Of course, according to the story, most of mankind was dead within a week. Oops.

Sparky June 23, 2008 11:46 PM

@wkwillis: a 2.5 meter high room would create 250kpascals (=0.25bar) of pressure at the bottom, and if the room is properly sealed and completely full, you can add
the line pressure to that, but that pressure would suddenly drop when something cracks.

I’d think it might break the walls, as concrete is very strong in compression, but has very low shear strength when it’s not reinforced (but most walls are, ofcourse). I just doubt it would bring down a building though.

It certainly is a nice movie plot threat. What product do you intent to sell to prevent this? Any overpressure device could be circumvented. An extra meter to monitor your neighbors water usage?

Mark June 24, 2008 1:44 AM

Do they not have trucks in China?

These can be used to covertly transport a large bomb. Rather more that the few kilos of explosive you could expect a person to possibly carry.
Anyway such screening is probably not going to be much use against a “traditional” suicide bomber, using solid explosive, especially if they they have been issued with a gun as well as a bomb.

RonK June 24, 2008 1:59 AM

@ Nick Lancaster

not to mention overcome things like chlorination

It strikes me as silly to try to neutralize the chlorination. You’d either use a toxin which doesn’t readily react with the active chlorination products in the pool, or, more elegantly, use a precursor chemical which reacts with the chlorination products to produce your toxin (ammonia comes to mind, although that’s not a very good example, since it’s very detectable and toxic just by itself — and the chloramine generated would probably not be sufficiently toxic except in a highly enclosed space).

Woo June 24, 2008 2:07 AM

I wonder.. if I’d carry a bottle of strong cyanide solution, would it be enough to kill the guard sniffing my bottle? Cyanide is rather effective if inhaled..

Nostromo June 24, 2008 2:12 AM

But is the Reuters report correct? I looked at the claimed source,, and didn’t find anything like what Reuters reported. There are links to 3 articles about swimming but they are all about the swimming marathon qualifying event for the Olympics.

On the other hand, I read Chinese slowly and painfully and may have missed it. Maybe somebody who reads Chinese better than I do would check?

David Thomas June 24, 2008 2:16 AM

I wonder if the area has been having a problem with public drunkenness around the pools. Seems like terrorism might just be the excuse to check that no one’s smuggling in booze.

D0R June 24, 2008 2:50 AM

How they are supposed to check by sniffing whether the liquid is dangerous? They expect to see a little cloud in the shape of a skull and crossbones popping out of the opened bottle?

John Campbell June 24, 2008 3:50 AM

(laughs maniacally)

Perhaps they want to check for drugs that might trigger a yearning for democracy?

D0R June 24, 2008 4:28 AM

When speaking of “attack with liquid” against a pool, the first thing it comes to mind is someone pissing into it…

Kristine June 24, 2008 4:43 AM

@Wesley: “What you do not smell is Iocaine powder. It is odorless, tasteless, and dissolves instantly in liquid and is among the more deadly poisons known to man.”

Yes, but you can spend a few years building up an immunity to it.


SD June 24, 2008 5:13 AM

I also checked the site listed in the article. I couldn’t find any reports related to this issue (but it could have easily been removed).

What Michael Ash mentioned tends to be true, but there are some communities where the security is taken very seriously (I’ve noticed that more expensive places or places with a high percentage of government workers pay close attention to security). There is often a foolproof way to get past security measures: look foreign enough and security will often even open the door for you!

bob June 24, 2008 6:57 AM

Apparently they aren’t getting the “suicide” part of suicide bomber. Who cares if they drink it if it doesn’t kill them until after they’ve done whatever they’re planning Dump clear liquid containing Am243 (radioactive substance) in the pool water for example. Similar to what Monsanto did with Pu238 in my home town (and had to build us a new swimming facility across town as a result).

prefabrik June 24, 2008 6:59 AM

high percentage of government workers pay close attention to security). There is often a foolproof way to get past security measures: look foreign enough and security

DaveAronson June 24, 2008 7:31 AM

@Jonas Grumby: Yes, and either piece of a bikini could make a handy garrot. Should women thus attired be forced to remove them? Hmmm…. 😉

Zarquan June 24, 2008 8:50 AM

How much of a performance enhancing drug would you need for it to show up on a drugs test ?

I’m thinking bad guys put regular small(ish) amounts of banned performance enhancing drug into swimming pools. Everyone who swims in the pool absorbs just enough to show up positive on a drugs test.

Whole teams get banned, and the games collapse because hardly any athletes left to compete.

China’s economy goes into recession because businesses borrowed heavily expecting huge return in investment from the games.

Jon Sowden June 24, 2008 7:16 PM


Heh. There was a scare/attack on a organisation where I live recently. Apparently some idiot sent an envelope containing a ‘white powder’ to the organisation. The reception desk opened it (fair enough – terrorism isn’t a threat here) found the poweder and promptly took a big sniff. They couldn’t figure out what it was, so asked the co-worker, who dipped finger and tasted it. Still nothing, so they wandered around the floor asking all and sundry what it was until someone finally twigged and went ape.

Several people ended up in hospital and/or taking a few days off work. IIRC, the powder was a bleach, or something similar.

Oddly, I never saw it reported in the paper.

Thoth June 24, 2008 8:49 PM

Why don’t they do some chemical analysis too before allowing you entry and put you in a holding area before the analysis results are out ? Isn’t that more complete and better ?

Wesley June 25, 2008 1:37 AM

I thought, the point of so many security guards was more about keeping unemployment down than about security theater. Doesn’t cost too much to keep people employed when wages are so low, and it keeps them from stirring up other trouble.

averros June 25, 2008 2:45 PM

@John Campbell

Perhaps they want to check for drugs that
might trigger a yearning for democracy?

Indeed. One has to be fairly out of his mind to yearn for democracy. Or ignorant. Or both.

In any case, the whole liquids check is a bullshit excuse for statist social engineering and/or forcing customers to buy stuff on premises for ridiculous price.

Some other anonymous guy June 25, 2008 3:24 PM

Did no one involved in the formulation of this policy ever have a chemistry set as a kid? Um … powder … cough, cough.

Nathan Smith June 27, 2008 11:14 AM

As a former lifeguard I can say that the only liquid I was concerned with being sneaked in was alcohol. The vast majority of drownings are alcohol-related.

Brian July 24, 2008 1:11 PM

Maybe they are secretly watching to make sure people aren’t smuggling in empty bottles they could use to steal the pool water. You know, given today’s droughts, watering bans, and global warming 🙂

Derek July 25, 2008 6:14 AM

It’s fun to make a big splash by tossing chunks of sodium metal into swimming pools. I guess they’re OK with that since sodium is a solid, not a liquid.

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