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DISCLAIMING AIRBAG MISCONCEPTIONS

 DISCLAIMING AIRBAG MISCONCEPTIONS
 CHICAGO, Dec. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- In an era of me-too products,


consumers rarely get something new to consider. One truly new product for consumers is airbags. Designed specifically to save lives, they have recently become controversial. Stories of drivers who have walked away from serious accidents are now competing with stories from critics of airbags who are alleging that they are "toxic."
 Exactly what is an airbag system? How does it work? It saves lives but does it also create hazards? Is there a risk? If so, what kind? Is it an acceptable risk?
 According to Morton International, the world leader in the growing market of airbag systems, airbags consist of crash sensors, diagnostic equipment and a module that contains the actual airbag and inflator. The inflator produces the nitrogen gas that causes the airbag to open. In an accident, the sensors, located in the front of the car, detect rapid deceleration at impact velocities exceeding a threshold between 10 and 14 miles per hour, depending on the crash characteristics of the particular car model. The sensor sends a signal to the inflator which, in turn, releases a burst of filtered nitrogen gas to inflate the bag. Within milliseconds, the bag is inflating and is fully inflated for just 1/10 of a second. It then quickly deflates -- and is nearly deflated by 3/10 of a second after impact.
 Inflation and Deflation in Seconds
 It's very quick. The process of inflation and deflation of the airbag occurs so rapidly that some drivers involved in an accident mistakenly believe either that the bag did not fully inflate or that the rapid inflation caused the bag to rupture. In fact, the rapid deflation of the bag is designed to maximize the cushioning effect of the airbag system.
 Recent studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show the benefits of airbags in head-on crashes: almost one-third fewer fatalities even if the motorist was not wearing a seat belt and more than one-half fewer fatalities when both are used. Drivers also suffered fewer injuries when their cars were equipped with driver-side airbags.
 The Bag -- Filled With Nitrogen
 But there has been concern voiced about the health risks associated with the materials involved, particularly, sodium azide. To date, only sodium azide-based gas generants are being used to meet the performance requirements of airbags; alternatives are being evaluated, but their reliability and suitability are presently uncertain. Sodium azide-based gas generants were chosen for airbag inflators because they work: they burn rapidly, producing nitrogen gas. Other by-product gases and particulates are produced in such low quantities that they have not shown any harmful effects to automobile occupants. Integral to the design is a filtering device within the inflator that takes out most of these particles and cools the nitrogen gas before allowing it to leave the module to fill up the airbag.
 Harmless "Smoke"
 At the time of airbag inflation, there may be some smoke in the car. This smoke is from the nitrogen gas process and from small powdery residue from inside the bag. The powdery residue is from talcum powder used to line the inside of the bag, acting as a lubricant to help the bag unfold.
 Some airbag critics say that the dust generated by an inflated airbag is caustic and can be irritating. The dust that is formed and released is primarily sodium carbonate, commonly known an "washing soda." Minute quantities of sodium hydroxide are created but react quickly with moisture and carbon dioxide in the air to become sodium carbonate and/or sodium bicarbonate (or baking soda).
 Identifiable But Harmless Odor
 Other critics cite a sulfurous odor in accidents involving airbags. This is due to sulfur-based additives used in the manufacture of the gas generant. Traces of these sulfur-based materials may be present in the passenger compartment after deployment. The odor is very identifiable and detectable at very low levels -- below health/environmental concerns. In geographic locations where sulfur occurs naturally in the soil (Louisiana, for example) groundwater also has this characteristic odor. It may not be pleasant, but it is safe.
 Scientists from Morton International say passenger compartment air following deployment of an airbag has been tested, and is safe to breathe. Chemical analysis of the air shows concentrations of gaseous and particulate matter well below levels of health concerns. Tests with asthmatics show that the slightly dusty atmosphere produced by an airbag posed no respiratory system hazard.
 One further note. All airbags can be easily inflated by junk yard employees to facilitate safe scrapping of airbag-equipped cars.
 From creation to disposal, the manufacturers of airbags have considered many peripheral issues and are working to find optimal solutions to them. Because, in the final analysis, airbags do save lives.
 -0- 12/19/91
 /NOTE TO EDITORS: Photo available./
 /CONTACT: Steve Hoechster for Morton International, 212-575-1976/
 (MII) CO: Morton International ST: IN: AUT SU: PS -- NYFNS6 -- 3691 12/19/91 07:32 EST
COPYRIGHT 1991 PR Newswire Association LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Dec 19, 1991
Words:825
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