Replacements for the nearly 42 million Takata airbags whose inflation problems have been linked to at least 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries still use the chemical propellant that makes their earlier versions unsafe, says a whistleblower. In an interview with Washington, DC, television station WJLA, former Takata senior propellant engineer Mark Lillie claimed the company continues using ammonium nitrate to drive rapid deployment. Ammonium nitrate was also the largest constituent of the fertilizer bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
The station confirmed that Takata has filed recent patents for replacement airbags that specify inclusion of ammonium nitrate. Before he left Takata, Lillie told WJLA, “I said, if we go forward with this, someone will be killed. I could not put it any more plainly than that." He also noted that ammonium nitrate is too reactive and powerful for use as " a high precision explosive. It’s used in bulk applications, in open pit mining and that kind of thing,”
Reports that drivers and passengers were suffering deadly and disabling injuries from Takata airbags prompted an initial voluntary recall in the spring of 2013. Since then, as Car & Driver documents, the recall has been officially expanded nearly a dozen times. The basic problem has been identified as humidity and chemical decay destabilizing the ammonium nitrate powder. When triggered by a crash, the propellant explodes with too much force, either riddling people with shrapnel from destroyed components or leaving people unprotected by a burst airbag.
My Virginia personal injury law firm colleagues and I have tracked this problem since the beginning. Having helped many victims of defective and dangerous products, we are not surprised that the airbag recall timeline has extended over three years to date. We are alarmed, however, to learn that Takata has seemingly taken no real action to fix the main problem that puts its customers' lives at risk. No other airbag manufacturer appears to use ammonium nitrate, but Takata persists in subjecting people to the chemical's dangers.
When a company makes and markets a dangerous or defective product, it has legal and ethical duties to remove that product from the marketplace and to compensate people who suffered harm. This is true whether the unsafe product is a coffee carafe or a riding mower engine. If Takata is failing to meets its legal duties to protect people, it must be ordered to stop selling its airbags and to pay compensation and other damages to victims.