TSA: Flights from California airport suspended after hazardous material found in bag

By Tracie Cone, AP
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

TSA: Hazardous material shuts Calif. airport

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Federal officials suspended flights Tuesday to and from a California airport after a bag tested positive for traces of an explosive.

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Suzanne Trevino said the incident at Bakersfield’s Meadows Field doesn’t appear to related to terrorism. But officials have detained the adult male owner of the bag for questioning.

“The preliminary swab on the outside of the bag came back positive for TNT, which is what set off all the bells and whistles,” said Kern County Sheriff’s spokesman Michael Whorf.

TSA officials discovered the unidentified material on a checked bag during a routine security check. The two TSA employees opened the bag and were sickened by fumes, said Sean Collins, another Kern County Sheriff’s spokesman.

Bakersfield Fire Chief Nick Dunn said a bottle inside the bag released fumes. The two TSA officers exposed to the fumes were taken to a hospital for evaluation then released with no medical issues, Trevino said.

Officials said they hope to determine the contents of the bottle Tuesday.

The discovery closed down the airport around 8:20 a.m., with officials calling in a hazardous material crew. A bomb squad also was dispatched to the airport as a precaution, and sheriff’s deputies used a robot to search the terminal.

All incoming flights were delayed until noon, when they were diverted to the Bakersfield airport’s international terminal. Outbound flights have been canceled.

The discovery came less than two weeks after a man was charged with trying to destroy a Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit. He is alleged to have smuggled an explosive device on board the aircraft and set if off, but the device sparked only a fire and not the intended explosion.

Airline security has been tightened since the arrest.

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