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New report highlights Takata’s ongoing struggle with airbag compound

Posted on Thursday, December 11th, 2014   

While Takata is still maintaining that they have not identified the source of their airbag failures, a new report by The New York Times reveals that the company has expressed concerns over their use of ammonium nitrate as a propellant since the mid-‘90s.

The current concerns regarding Takata airbags center around their propensity to inflate with too much force and release shrapnel when deployed. This problem has been associated with five deaths and many more injuries. Critics have recently pointed a finger at ammonium nitrate as the source of the problem; Takata refutes this claim.

However, patent applications from the mid-‘90s reveal that Takata was aware of the potential problems with using ammonium nitrate to inflate their airbags. In the newly released documents, Takata previously acknowledged that the compound “was so vulnerable to temperature changes that its casing, under excessive pressure, ‘might even blow up.’” Takata has since worked to stabilize the compound by adding potassium to the propellant. They introduced the airbags with ammonium nitrate to the market in 2001, but additional patent applications show that they continued to propose more stabilizing measures in the following years, suggesting that Takata may have known the propellant was not yet completely safe, even as they continued to manufacture the product.

In a congressional hearing last week, Takata’s chief quality officer said, “The ammonium nitrate that we are using, it’s safe and stable.” Takata is continuing to use ammonium nitrate in the replacement airbags for recalled vehicles.

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