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Takata to Test Air Bags; Hopes to Put to Rest Concerns Over Ammonium Nitrate

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In June 2015, Takata made an official apology for their defective air bags, and announced they were expanding their recalls to include all 50 states. These are air bags that have been linked to at least eight deaths and over 100 injuries. Instead of deploying as expected, some of their air bags exploded in accidents, sending shrapnel into the interior of the vehicle. Occupants have suffered hearing and vision loss, knife-like wounds, and uncontrolled bleeding that led to death.

Though the company has been pressured for over a year to expand recalls to get these air bags fixed, it hasn’t complied until recently. Now, the company plans to recall and repair about 34 million defective air bag inflators, according to Reuters. In addition to launching an ad campaign to increase awareness about the recalls, the company has proposed a plan to conduct additional testing on the air bags in an attempt to determine exactly what caused the explosions.

So far, Takata has kept the details of that plan away from the public.

Takata Proposes Air Bag Testing Plan

According to an August 12, 2015 report on Kyodo News, Takata has “proposed to a U.S. transport body a plan to test the safety of replacement kit inflators for its faulty air bags…”

Takata has already performed other tests on the air bags. According to reports in 2014, results showed that high temperatures and high humidity levels were factors in causing air bags to explode. That’s why for the longest time, Takata resisted expanding recalls beyond states like Florida and Hawaii. States known for high temperatures and humidity were the only ones truly at risk, the company seemed to believe, as they conducted recalls of faulty air bags only in high-humidity areas.

Critics called on Takata to expand their recalls, since some accidents involving exploding air bags occurred in areas that were not known for high temperatures and humidities, but the company refused until recently. Automakers like Honda, Toyota, and Nissan were left to pick up the slack themselves. Many of these companies have launched their own testing procedures to try to determine the exact cause of the air bag problems.

Ammonium Nitrate in Replacement Air Bags Safe?

One of the main concerns with the recalls is that some of the air bag inflators used in the replacement air bags contain the same chemical propellant as the old ones did—ammonium nitrate. This chemical, according to employees that used to work for Takata, is inherently unstable. These employees questioned Takata’s move to use ammonium nitrate in 2001.

Takata has continued to maintain that the propellant is safe, despite repeated questions from Congress and elsewhere. Kyodo News notes that this concern has not gone away: “With the root cause of the air bags’ defect yet to be identified, safety concerns over the replacement kit inflators are growing as they use the same propellant, ammonium nitrate, used in the air bags that some blame for abnormal ruptures.”

In fact, Fiat Chrysler has stated that they will not use Takata air bag inflators in their recall replacements because they contain ammonium nitrate. It is these concerns that Takata hopes to put to rest with this new testing plan.

Takata’s Testing Plan Details Hidden

The details of Takata’s plan were revealed to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but were hidden from the public, reportedly to protect confidential information. It is clear that the plan includes testing by Takata’s own Product Safety Group and German-based Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology.