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From Products Liability Law Daily, November 14, 2018

EPA addresses proper disposal of defective airbag inflators

By Georgia D. Koutouzos, J.D.

Regulations aimed at facilitating the urgent removal of defective Takata airbag inflators from vehicles and preventing those defective components from being reused are being issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Estimated to result in a net cost savings of 1.7 to 13 million dollars annually, the interim final rule provides clear direction to auto dealers, scrap recyclers, and small businesses on the proper disposal of the at-issue airbags by exempting their collection from some Resource Conservation and Recovery Act hazardous waste requirements as long as certain conditions are met.

According to an EPA press release on the initiative, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2015 issued a Coordinated Remedy Order for the recall of defective Takata airbag inflators [see Products Liability Law Daily’s November 3, 2015 analysis], finding that the defective components potentially could rupture when deployed, presenting an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death. The risk with the airbag inflators increases with time as well as exposure to heat and humidity.

Takata underwent a restructuring due to bankruptcy in 2018, and the U.S. Department of Transportation amended its Preservation Order regarding returned inflators. Under the amended order, vehicle manufacturers no longer must send recalled inflators to Takata warehouses for long-term storage, but may now send them directly for disposal. Given the large magnitude of the recall and the possibility of additional Takata airbag recalls, the EPA said that the new regulations will further facilitate airbag management away from storage and toward final disposal.

While the Takata recall is the reason for EPA’s action, the airbag waste exemption also applies to non-Takata airbag waste, the agency said, noting that applying the same protective requirements to all airbag waste avoids confusion, increases efficiency, and helps prevent non-Takata airbag waste from being diverted into the municipal waste stream.

EPA determined that the public health risk posed by defective Takata airbags in vehicles provides good cause for the standards to be promulgated as immediately effective upon their formal publication in the Federal Register. Nevertheless, the agency will accept comments on the final rule for 60 days after its publication and will consider that input in determining whether any additional revisions to the regulation of airbag waste are necessary in the future.

In addition, EPA has scheduled two, hour-long webinars on the interim final rule at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 20, 2018, and Thursday, December 6, 2018. Further information on registering for the webinars is available at https://clu-in.org/conf/tio/RecalledAirbags/.

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