UPDATE 5-Passenger says honey caused Calif. airport scare
* California airport shut down over 'hazardous substance'
* TSA screeners taken to hospital for nausea
* Passenger says bottles contained only honey (Adds details, background, quotes)
By Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES, Jan 5 (Reuters) - A passenger whose bag tested positive for explosives at a California airport on Tuesday, prompting authorities to shut down the facility and divert flights, said he was carrying only bottled honey, police said.
But hours after the incident, 31-year-old Francisco Ramirez, who said he was a gardener from Milwaukee, was still being held for questioning, and investigators continued to examine the contents of his bag.
The security scare came as jitters gripped the U.S. travel industry in the aftermath of a botched Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound commercial flight from Amsterdam using explosives smuggled on board.
Meadows Field Airport in the central California city of Bakersfield, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Los Angeles, was evacuated and closed to air traffic for hours, and two federal baggage screeners were taken to a local hospital after they encountered the suspect bag.
Michael Whorf, spokesman for the Kern County Sheriff's Department, said the personnel were first alerted to a potential problem by a luggage-screening machine.
Their initial swabs of the inside of the bag and the surface of one of five bottles containing a "suspicious-looking liquid" tested positive for the explosives TNT and TATP.
When the bottle was opened, the two screeners smelled a strong chemical odor, complained of nausea and were taken to a local hospital, where they treated and released, Whorf said.
"We're continuing to investigate to try to figure out what's causing these test results to come up the way that they have and to determine what exactly is in the bottle, and investigating his story, too," Whorf told Reuters.
Earlier in the day a U.S. Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman said that the bag was found to contain an unknown "hazardous substance."
Whorf said nothing that appeared to be a detonator was found in the bag, but, "We're not ruling anything out. We're not speculating at this point."
Ramirez, who Whorf described as "very cooperative," had been booked on a flight from Bakersfield to Milwaukee with a connection through San Francisco.
But investigators were still trying to confirm his story that he was in California to visit relatives over the holidays.
In an unrelated incident halfway across the country on Tuesday, a bomb-sniffing dog detected what was thought to be explosives in a piece of luggage at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, prompting an evacuation of a terminal and delayed flights there.
No explosives were found in the bag.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
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