Curious Case Of Explosive Contaminated TSA Gloves

Anyone who has been selected for secondary screening, or bag screening, by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is familiar with the agency’s procedures for swabbing of a Transportation Security Officer’s (TSO) gloves for traces of explosives following a pat-down or search of a bag.


But what does a passenger do when the gloves TSA TSO’s are using have already been contaminated with traces of explosives?  This has been the case recently at Port of Columbus International Airport (CMH), in Columbus, Ohio.


Twice in the past week I have heard from travelers that have been screened with contaminated gloves at the airport. The first person to alert me to this problem is a Delta Air Lines regional airline flight attendant (who wishes to remain unnamed due to her job) and the other is Martin Rottler, an Aviation Lecturer at Ohio State University’s Center for Aviation Studies.


The batch of gloves in use by TSA TSO’s at the airport have been manufactured in Malaysia, and while the agency is aware of the contaminated gloves, rather than Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) swabbing a sample glove from each box as it is opened, the TSA continues to use them for screening passengers with a high rate of false positives.   As the contaminated gloves are used to search a travelers bag, or pat them down, they are not only increasing their search times by using the contaminated gloves, they are also contaminating the passenger, their belongings, and wasting man hours and wasting supply money.


While the Port of Columbus International Airport is not the first airport to encounter this problem, they are the first airport I am aware of to have an on going issue lasting at least a week with a known batch of contaminated gloves.


As Mr. Rottler passed through the airport last week, already aware of the problem, he asked the TSA TSO to ETD swab the gloves before he was patted down … the gloves tested positive before they ever touched him.  This means that not only would he have been trace contaminated, but the TSA TSO had already been contaminated. Every time that TSO touched someone, they would alarm in the explosives test.


What should the TSA do? First, determine how a large batch of gloves could have been contaminated in the factory where they were manufactured. Second the agency needs to destroy the entire batch, determine where else the gloves are, destroy them, and set in place a policy for testing batches of gloves before being placed into hands on security operations.


Should TSA TSO’s become complacent knowing their gloves will alarm for explosives they will let their guard down. Should someone with the intention of smuggling an explosive through a TSA checkpoint be aware of these lapses, it gives them greater opportunity to pass through security as just another traveler that was improperly screened by contaminated gloves.


Happy Flying … and if you’re flying through CMH, ask them to swab the gloves before they touch you!




  1. I came up explosives positive about 2 weeks ago in SFO. I had the guy put on new gloves before he started. I had to have a second hand search and everything was further swabbed. Total waste of time.

    I will insist on testing of the gloves before testing starts moving forward.

  2. I’ve flown into and out of CMH many times . . . always had more TSA trouble there than just about any other airport . . . surley, rude, and just down right discourteous TSA agents . . . I have no idea why at this airport this seems to be the case

  3. I’ve popped in RIC 3 times and had the TSA supervisor tell me it was the gloves twice. Always a big waste of time, but then, so is most of screening process. The funny thing is when they alert prior to screening. I learned not mention they need to do a calibration test prior if they forget to do it. Some folks don’t like being told how to improve their job performance.

  4. Reason #1 that I always ask the clerk to change their gloves and run an ETD before groping me. Only had kickback from an idiot at SFO that did everything in his power to make me wait.

  5. Daniel,

    Keep in mind that SFO is not TSA. SFO is one of the few airports with privatized security in the United States. “Team SFO” is operated by Covenant Aviation Security under the authority of the TSA.

    Happy Flying!


  6. Stack up all the potential sources of a false positive, the wrong hand lotion, faulty use of the ETD machine, contaminated gloves and TSA worker stupidity and this is an absolutely worthless exercise.

    Just another example of TSA security theater and waste.

    These morons have made a mockery of security operation and are now the most despised and ridiculed agency on the planet.

    Fliers are partly to blame since most do not file complaints every time they are victim of TSA stupidity and abuse.

    If more folks filed complaints via their member of Congress, the phone app Fly Rights from the Sikh Coalition and TSA, things might improve.

  7. We had this in early 2010 in MIA. Our stroller tested positive over and over again. The agent was getting more excited that he was about to capture a family of terrorists :rolleyes: I saw a supervisor at a distance and managed to get his attention by gestures. He asked the agent if he had changed gloves after testing the equipment a few hours ago. Turns out he hadn’t and was merrily swabbing with contaminated gloves.

  8. Doesn’t this just *sound* like the quintessential Islamist plot: a glove factory that has been infiltrated? Usama couldn’t have done much better than myriad time-wasting (thus money-consuming) false positives: “economic terrorism” at the lowest level, grit in the shoes of society!

    It’s pretty easy to smuggle extra materials *in* to a mix — for the powder, not for the gloves themselves — especially if the starch comes from a third party. (Yes, Malaysia is only “61% Muslim”, but Indonesia is another big source for nitrile gloves, “…the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, with 87 percent…” [Wikipedia].) For that matter, if you did a professional chemistry job with the additive, you wouldn’t even have to segregate the gloves going to the medical industry.[1]

    On the other hand, while I’m spouting conspiracies, does anybody remember when over-zealous policemen (in the pre-camera days) who did traffic stops sometimes carried a glove smeared with cannabis residue? Just touch the trunk while walking around the subject car: ensured that a sniffer dog would alert, giving probable cause for a full search. Hey hey, so it’s really the CIA, not the Islamists — they just got their “special” batches of gloves mixed up… 🙂

    [1] In the 1800’s, plain ordinary gunpowder was known to have antiseptic properties (probably from the sulphur), and was even used as a fumigant. Yes, nowadays most — but not all — surgical gloves are manufactured powder-free.

  9. I just went through security at CMH yesterday morning and had a positive ETD when I opted for pat down because I’m pregnant. I’m also diabetic and on metformin and on progesterone for pregnancy. It was highly stressful for me. I wonder if the gloves were contaminated?

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