• 2 Investigates: Airbag deaths linked to Georgia factory

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    LAGRANGE, Ga. - A Channel 2 Action News consumer investigation is revealing evidence that the largest recall in history, 53 million airbag inflators worldwide, has a Georgia connection.

    The recall involves air bag inflators that can explode, spraying shrapnel at the driver.

    For 15 years troubled air bag maker takata built its inflators in LaGrange.

    Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland gained access to a special laboratory in South Carolina that's testing and dissecting dozens of inflators made in LaGrange.

    Strickland and his photographer captured the moment a defective airbag inflator went off releasing a powerful mix of flames, sparks and gas.

    Automotive scientist Bill Williams showed Strickland the inflator from LaGrange that came close to spewing shrapnel. The canister was bowed outwards from too much force.

    The night before Strickland arrived, Williams was shooting a test with his iPhone.

    The blast tore the canister apart and shrapnel ripped a hole through the Williams' test chamber. 

    “That's where somebody's lap would have been,” Williams said.

    A jagged piece from a Georgia man’s airbag inflator hit him in the neck.

    “I reached up to try to see where the blood was coming from and my finger went inside of my throat. That's when I knew I had a major problem,” said Cedric Walton.

    Williams discovered Walton's inflator came from the former Takata factory in LaGrange.

    Takata closed there 10 years ago, but Honda confirms what the Channel 2 investigation found: At least six of eight air bag fatalities involve inflators from LaGrange.

    [See Walton's lawsuit against Takata]

    More than half of William's failed test inflators, 28 in all, are also from LaGrange.   

    “Takata knows more than we do about every bit of this stuff, but they're not coming forward and telling the public,” Walton’s attorney Kevin Dean said.

    Dean also represents the family of 42-year-old Law Suk Lei, who was killed by airbag shrapnel last year.             

    Honda confirms a mistake at the LaGrange plant exposed her air bag's propellant to excessive moisture.

    "Moisture affects the chemical ammonium nitrate so you get a different chemical reaction and a more volatile explosion," Dean said.

    Dean and Williams have also been cutting inflators open looking for signs of moisture.

    “I couldn't believe it when I saw it,” Williams said.

    These propellant wafers called bat wings, are covered in rust. So is the inside, every time.

    “And these are randomly selected. We take it out of the box, we cut it open...rust,” he said.

    Takata executive Kevin Kennedy testified last week about new and improved inflators. He said they hadn’t shown any signs of moisture to his knowledge.    

    Newer inflators made in Mexico use the same chemical in a pellet shape.

    Dean showed Strickland an inflator pulled from a 2006 VW Passat, a vehicle not on the recall list.

    “And you can see all the rust. This inflator, these propellants, this vehicle is not under current recall,” said Dean.

    Both the inflator and interior and propellant were discolored.

    Testing also identified a recall replacement inflator with rust.

    “There's a problem. Moisture's getting in here, there's no question. And you do it again and again and again, and every one shows the same thing. It's a pattern,” Williams said.

    Takata sent Strickland a statement about Dean and William's findings:

    "Based on our extensive testing of more than 50,000 inflators and our examination of field incidents, Takata is not aware of any rupture issues involving the PSDI-5 airbag inflators.  The corrosion of the PSDI-5 inflator in the picture is of no concern and is not an indication that it is due to moisture exposure.  The propellant itself is a strong oxidizer and will create surface rust on bare steel that it is in contact with, which in no way affects inflator performance.  The color of the aged propellant also appears typical and is of no concern.  We have taken broad actions that go well beyond the scope of the safety risk suggested by the current science and testing data, and will continue to do everything we can to ensure uncompromised safety for our customers and the success of the recall efforts."

    The Department of Transportation also sent Strickland a statement that said:

    "As you know, until May 19, Takata refused to acknowledge a safety defect in millions of inflators. Under the consent order and coordinated remedy plan NHTSA issued on May 19, NHTSA is now in a position to ensure that Takata and the auto manufacturers demonstrate a remedy that provides a safe air bag in every vehicle, for the life of the vehicle. NHTSA has also launched a testing program that, among other goals, will help to verify the adequacy of proposed remedies. Also, as the consent order issued to Takata makes clear, NHTSA’s investigation remains open. That investigation encompasses all of Takata’s ammonium nitrate inflators.

     It is important to note that NHTSA is unaware of any ruptures in PSDI-5 inflators. In addition, the time to failure in Takata incidents ranges from roughly 7.5 to 12 years, indicating that extended exposure is a factor in ruptures. But the investigation remains open and NHTSA will if necessary take additional action if necessary to protect public safety."

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