Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, January 7th, 2010
A California airport was shut down and evacuated Tuesday after authorities claimed to have discovered “TNT” in luggage. Instead of a high-powered explosive, the substance turned out to be honey, owned by 31-year-old Francisco Ramirez, a gardener from Milwaukee.
The man was taken into custody at Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield after a security incident was announced at 7:30 a.m. Flights were suspended and terminals were evacuated. Two Transportation Security Administration employees reported feeling ill after smelling fumes from the honey, which was discovered in five Gatoraid bottles. Both TSA screeners were rushed to Meadows Field Hospital.
“The preliminary tests using the swabs indicated the presence of the explosives TNT and triacetone triperoxide, known as TATP,” a Kern County Sheriff’s Department spokesman told CNN.
Ramirez reportedly cooperated with authorities and informed them that the liquid was merely honey, not TNT. A second round of lab tests verified his claims and Ramirez was released without charge.
“After the all clear was given, officials said they were trying to determine why the honey tested positive for explosives and made the screeners so ill that they would need medical attention,” Reuters noted.
Other media reports said that the screeners were treated at the hospital and later released without incident. It was not immediately clear what sort of treatment the screeners received.
“Authorities are trying to determine whether Ramirez’s belongings may contain traces of chemicals he uses in his gardening,” USA Today added.
“There is nothing inherently in honey that would trigger a false positive in an explosives test, said Sue Cobey, a staff research associate for the Department of Entomology at UC Davis,” according to the Bakersfield Californian. “The only scenario she could envision was a foraging bee bringing pesticide or fertilizer residue back to a hive.”