The TSA have once again found themselves at the center of an embarrassing incident at a major airport, after a pepper-spray canister was accidentally discharged, hospitalizing six agents. The mishap did not cause serious harm, but adds to a multitude of recent missteps by the agency. It also highlights the potential risk that could have arisen had the abandoned device been of a more deadly nature.
Christ-Yves Dabel, the agent who was found to have discharged the item, "found the canister on the floor and thought it was a laser pointer," according to the New York Post. The release of the spray affected Dabel and five of his colleagues, who were taken to a Queens hospital as a precautionary measure. The TSA were keen to stress that no members of the public were hit by the spray, though they were affected by delays. Devices of this kind are required to be placed into checked luggage, and its reason for being on the concourse is as yet unknown.
Unfortunately, this is not the first recent high-profile controversy to take place involving the TSA. At the beginning of March, a TSA agent managed to pass through Newark Liberty International Airport metal detectors, as well as a pat-down, while carrying a fake bomb as part of a drill. Also this month, a man was allowed to continue on his journey after a smoke grenade was found concealed under the lining in his bag. These incidents could not have come at a worse time for the TSA, who were already dealing with the backlash against their decision to allow blades under 2.36 inches onto flights.
This latest debacle sets an embarrassing new low, however. Perhaps most worryingly, Dabel was, by his own admission, "playing around" with the device, which he thought to be a laser pointer. If this is true, it is not the sort of care one would expect from an employee handling potentially dangerous items in a high-security building. While pepper spray is unlikely to do lasting harm, the item was not recognized, and could potentially have been deadly. The potential for such harm cannot be reassuring for members of the public that make use of the airport on a daily basis.
The pepper spray incident has done nothing to aid the TSA in regaining its reputation with the general public. However, the potential threat to staff, passengers, and possibly the public as a whole is certainly the more pressing concern.