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Takata issues broad recall for ammonium-nitrate inflators

by Justin King

The NHTSA demanded a widespread recall for all ammonium-nitrate inflators that do not integrate a drying agent to prevent chemical degradation.

Confirming and clarifying earlier reports, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced a broad recall for 35 million to 40 million Takata airbag inflators.

Up to this point, the agency had been allowing Takata to issue recalls only once a specific inflator part number had failed in lab testing or in the field. Safety advocates had called for a wider recall, however. At least one death involved an ammonium-nitrate inflator that had not yet been included in the piecemeal recall campaigns.

The controversial chemical is prone to degradation when exposed to moisture, including humidity in the air. Pairing ammonium-nitrate propellant with a desiccant appears to help minimize the danger.

The NHTSA had given Takata a 2019 deadline to prove the safety of its remaining ammonium-nitrate airbag inflators. The agency now demands that all non-desiccated ammonium-nitrate inflators be pulled from the market, more than doubling the total number of recalled components. The expansion will be carried out in three phases through December 2019, starting with the most failure-prone components and vehicles in regions of high absolute humidity.

"NHTSA's aggressive actions in 2015 means this recall is already a year ahead of where it would have been if the agency had waited for this research," said NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind. "The science clearly shows that these inflators become unsafe over time, faster when exposed to humidity and variations of temperature."

Previous analyst estimates suggest the repair bill could expand by up to $24 billion. The figure calls into question the financial viability of the Japanese supplier, which is already feeling the strain as automakers work to complete the first 10 million inflator repairs.

There have been no known ruptures of inflators that employ a desiccant to keep the propellant dry, however Takata is still obligated to prove the safety of such designs to avoid a total recall for all ammonium-nitrate inflators.

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