The company behind the massive recall of potentially explosive airbags won’t face a federal investigation after one of its trucks crashed and exploded on a Texas highway.
A transport truck carrying ammonium nitrate propellant and airbag inflators detonated last week, killing the occupant of a nearby home and leaving the truck in pieces. After two U.S. senators demanded a probe, the National Transportation Safety Board now claims that Takata followed the rules.
Reuters reported that two U.S. senators — Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) — called on the National Transportation Safety Bureau to investigate the accident. Its goal was to see if Takata, whose airbag inflators are linked to 14 deaths and 150 injuries, followed proper safety precautions.
Reuters has now reported that the NTSB has given Takata the all clear. The agency claims it checked with parties involved in the explosion and determined the materials were transported in a safe manner.
The blast served to highlight the volatile nature of ammonium nitrate, the chemical at the heart of the Takata recall. Heat and humidity can break down the hard ammonium nitrate pellet in Takata airbag inflators, gradually giving it extra explosive power. The blasts can then rupture the airbag and send metal shrapnel into an occupant.
According to The New York Times, the explosion has raised concerns about volatile cargo being transported through American cities. Photos of the blast site published with its report, showing the smoking foundations of a leveled home and a truck frame split in half, will no doubt raise more.
The blast occurred in Quemado, Texas, near the Mexican border. In the early morning hours of August 22, the truck swerved off the road and crashed. A fire broke out, and the two drivers fled. The resulting explosion injured the drivers, the occupants of a nearby car, and killed Lucila Robles in a nearby home. Her remains were found two days later.
Takata’s distribution center is in nearby Eagle Pass, Texas, and the propellant must be shipped from a supplier in Moses Lake, Washington. During the 36-hour trip, the trucks pass through Boise, Idaho; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Drivers must be equipped with safety equipment, including fire-retardant clothing and goggles.
Even when shipped properly, any volatile cargo can pose a danger if an accident occurs. It’s an accepted risk, as goods need to be transported somehow.
Speaking to the New York Times, Glenn P. Wicks, managing director at D.C. law firm Wicks Group (specializing in hazmat transportation), said the force of the impact could have triggered an ammonium nitrate explosion all by itself.