By on August 31, 2016

ammonium nitrate explosion (Oregon National Guard/Flickr)

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.

Earlier today, 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. Their 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 their 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 centre 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.

[Image: Oregon National Guard/Flickr]

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25 Comments on “No Investigation After Senators Demand Probe Into Massive Takata Truck Blast...”


  • avatar
    Shockrave Flash Has Crashed

    “The agency claims it checked with parties involved in the explosion and determined the materials were transported in a safe manner.”

    I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      It’s nominally safe until you crash, just like the gas in your fuel tank.

      In other words, no rules were broken. The only fault was the crash itself.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      If terrorists want to kill more Americans, they should open a trucking company:

      https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812279

      “In 2014 there were 3,903 people killed and an estimated 111,000 people injured in crashes involving
      large trucks. In the United States, an estimated 438,000 large trucks were involved in police-reported
      traffic crashes during 2014”

  • avatar
    Paragon

    You could not pay me enough to haul that crap. And, how can we be absolutely certain that terrorists weren’t involved? That they come out so quick to say Nothing To See Here so quickly, instead of taking months to investigate, really reeks of a government cover-up! Just sayin’. (OK, maybe not really serious.)

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Terrorists would have parked the truck in a strategic location or driven it directly into a target, rather than have it swerve off the road, killing only poor Lucila Robles by accident.

      Besides, you have the testimony of the drivers, who ran for their lives.

    • 0 avatar
      cdotson

      I think it far more likely that no congresscritter or bureaucrat really wants the light of publicity to shine on the materials that regularly crisscross the roads alongside the public.

      There are materials that cannot be made completely safe. They still must reach their destination.

    • 0 avatar
      vaujot

      I would like to mention that “The Wages of Fear” (Le Salaire de la Peur) is a really good film about driving explosive cargo. Highly recommended.

      • 0 avatar
        Erikstrawn

        … and “The Sword of Damocles”. I had to watch that one – it’s an excellent dissection of the USS Forestall disaster.

        My question is why were they carrying so much explosive? Especially when you already know it’s volatile. There are rules and regulations of how much you can put in one shipping container. Maybe the rules are for stable, dry ammonium nitrate and they haven’t revamped the hazardous rules to account for moisture-saturated ammonium nitrate?

        I’m thinking there’s some butt-covering going on here and there really does need to be an investigation.

  • avatar
    5280thinair

    “During the 36-hour trip, the trucks pass through Boise, Idaho; Salt Lake City, Nevada; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

    Salt Lake City *Nevada*? When did the state line move 120 miles east? And what’s Utah going to use as a State capitol now? :-)

    • 0 avatar
      JK43123

      Maybe Salt Lake City got moved by the blast!

      And yes, gasoline is dangerous but it’s not in the passenger compartment 2 feet from my face.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        Given the 500 car fires that happen *daily*, compared to the proximity of a (potentially faulty) airbag, I’m not sure either is a good choice.

        I’m eager to go back to electric, with good airbags, of course!

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          So the battery you’re sitting on can burn?

          Ain’t no truly safe choices for super-dense energy storage!

          (There’s diesel, which is bad at burning … and has nasty particulate emissions.)

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            Lithium ion batteries have proven to be exceptionally safe in cars. Even when it catches fire, it doesn’t explode like gasoline, giving passengers time to escape.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          “I’m eager to go back to electric,”

          yes, we know, you remind us of that multiple times every day.

          and a large portion of those car fires are poorly maintained old junk which overheat and cause the caked-on oily muck on the engine to start burning. or are electrical fires. the fuel tank is very rarely the source of car/truck fires, so I wish you and your ilk would stop being disingenuous (or just outright lying) and acting like they are. And stop acting like movies are real, gasoline does not “explode.”

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        it used to be, up until the late ’60s pickup trucks put the gas tank behind the seat.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    BTW, Salt Lake City is in Utah.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    If those drivers were able to run fast enough to survive that blast, they missed their big chance last week in Rio. Although, managing to come away from this alive beats a gold medal.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    “Heat and humidity can break down the hard ammonium nitrate pellet in Takata airbag inflators, gradually giving it extra explosive power.”

    Is this like Bosch’s Wasserspritzenboomer?

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    MY EYES! THE GOGGLES DO NOTHING!

  • avatar
    vaujot

    “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.”

    Well, I think this merits a discussion. Moses Lake, WA, is 1900 miles from Eagle Pass, Tx. Do you really need to make the stuff that far away from where you use it in production? And what are the safety requirements for this kind of transport, anyway. Reading that the drivers have to wear fireproof suits, helmets and goggles is remarkable. Perhaps this kind of transport should only be allowed to happen at night, with a police escort and other precautions to avoid accidents.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    Ammonium nitrate on its own is not that dangerous. Now if you would contaminate it with aluminium powder and store it in plastic drums, that is another matter altogether – solid rocket propellant.
    AN when heated can be dangerous on its own as around the same temperature as steel beams lose their structural rigidity, AN begins to dissociate to nitrogen and oxygen, essentially burning itself up. Now while burning it gets to the trucks aluminium cargo floor/wall… well then you have a problem which the drivers reacted with the appropriate reaction: *cue Chris Rock* RUN!
    And run quickly as it is pretty hard to put out an oxidizer fire.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    “In the early morning hours of August 22, the truck swerved off the road and crashed.”

    Bad truck! Bad, bad truck!

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