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December 21, 2012
Illegal explosives in counterfeit air bags

Counterfeit vehicle air bags that may not deploy when they should and that may also expel metal shrapnel during deployment have been finding their way into U.S. commerce, mainly through illegal importation, reported the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)nbsp; The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has now followed up on NHTSA’s announcement with a safety advisory.  The intent of the advisory is to inform shippers and carriers that such devices are subject to federal hazardous materials regulations (HMRs) governing explosives and that any air bag without PHMSA approval is considered a forbidden explosive.

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False branding

The NHTSA said that counterfeit air bags were being installed over the last 3 years as replacement parts in cars involved in a crash by some repair shops that are not part of a new car dealership.  While these air bags look nearly identical to certified, original equipment parts–including bearing the insignia and branding of major automakers–NHTSA testing showed consistent malfunctioning.  The full scope and scale of the problem is uncertain, but the NHTSA identified certain vehicle makes and models for which these air bags may be available and believes this issue affects less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet.

Click here for  NHTSA’s list of vehicles for which coubnterfeit airbags are available.

In its advisory, PHMSA notes that air bags incorporate a pyrotechnic device, known as an initiator or electric match, consisting of an electrical conductor cocooned in combustible material.  The device meets the HMR definition of an explosive.  Accordingly, the device must be properly classified as a hazardous material by the shipper and receive PHMSA approval indicating that the pyrotechnic initiator meets the appropriate safety standards. 

Classification and packaging

An approved air bag may be shipped under the description “UN3268, air bag inflators, or air bag modules, or seat-belt pretensioners, 9, PGIII.”  The air bag must be in rigid outer packaging that meets the general packaging requirement at 49 CFR Part 173 and packaging specification requirements at 49 CFR Part 178 and must be designed and constructed to prevent movement of the devices and inadvertent operation.  Shipments of Class 9 air bags must display a Class 9 label.  Shipping papers must accompany an air bag and contain the EX number or product code for each approved device.

PHMSA states that it is working with the NHTSA and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Commercial

Targeting and Analysis Center to identify and target potential manufacturers and importers of these unapproved devices to prevent their entry into the United States.  PHMSA requests that shippers or carriers who believe they are in possession of unapproved air bags contact the Hazardous Materials Information Center at 1-800-467-4922.

PHMSA’s advisory notice on counterfeit air bags was published in the November 21, 2012, FR.

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