A deadly truck explosion in Texas has been linked to an auto parts supplier that is currently at the center of a massive international product recall. Takata Corporation of Japan has been under scrutiny for fitting tens of millions of cars with airbags containing a defective propellent, but it only recently began acknowledging the problem. In June, Takata expanded its recall campaign to more than 100 million vehicles worldwide, making it the largest automotive recall in history.
Officials confirmed this week that a semi-trailer explosion in Eagle Pass, Texas, which killed 1 woman and injured 4 others, was most likely caused by the defective propellents. The truck was carrying air bag inflators and materials containing ammonium nitrate, an extremely volatile compound often used in high-explosive devices — most notoriously, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
According to the New York Times, the truck was being operated by a Takata subcontractor and crashed in the early morning hours of August 22. The resulting explosion was large enough to incinerate a nearby home, killing a 69-year-old woman whose remains were not found for 2 days.
Takata has since confirmed the incident, claiming in a statement that it “immediately deployed personnel to the site and has been working closely with the subcontractor and the appropriate authorities to investigate this incident.”
As horrific as it is, this is not the first fatality to be linked to the company’s defective air bags. At least 14 other deaths and more than 100 injuries have been blamed on Takata air bags that have improperly exploded, sending metal shrapnel throughout the front section of the vehicle. The Eagle Pass accident was not even the first explosion blamed on Takata-owned ammonium nitrate. In 2006, a series of blasts in nearby Monclova, Mexico, were also blamed on the defective air bag propellent.
With such carnage, it stands to question how such a deadly device could be handled so negligently. Takata maintains it followed all regulatory requirements in shipping these materials, but an investigation may show a different story. One source told the New York Times that state and federal investigators are likely to examine how the dangerous propellant was packaged and transported, as well as whether or not the drivers were certified to handle it.
“Every possible factor or factors — including the safety compliance of the motor carrier, the handling of the cargo by the shipper, its packaging, how the truck was placarded, as well as the truck’s routing — and all other aspects will be thoroughly investigated,” said a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
But the handling of ammonium nitrate by Takata subcontractors is just 1 component in a larger, international controversy. One must also ask how the company could allow its defective air bags to be distributed among millions of vehicles over several years before ever issuing a recall. As it turns out, Takata likely knew about these problems all the way back in 2001, when it began using ammonium nitrate as a propellent instead of a synthetic compound called tetrazole.
It wasn’t until 2014 that the company actually acknowledged the defect, prompting some 8 million recall notices in the U.S. That figure has since ballooned to more than 34 million compromised vehicles in the U.S. alone. (You can find a complete list of the effected vehicles here.)
While the precise reason for the defect is still not clear, it is believed that prolonged exposure to heat and humidity is causing the explosions, meaning drivers in Hawaii, the Caribbean, and the U.S. south may be at particular risk.
As Takata gears up for years of financial liability as a result of this defect, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is advising consumers to act immediately if they receive a recall notice. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car crash due to a faulty air bag, contact Sokolove Law for a free legal consultation.