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Scientists Discover What Made Takata Air Bags Explode

The saga of the exploding Takata air bags continues.

Tuesday, officials announced two new developments in the years-long case regarding the defective air bags that have been linked to the deaths of 10 people and led to massive recalls all over the world. First, scientists discovered what exactly caused the air bags to explode and send sharp metal fragments flying at the cars' occupants. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports:

"A group of 10 automakers hired a rocket science team to find the cause of the ruptures. The answer? Exposure to humidity, design and manufacturing problems. Add to that trifecta the use of the volatile chemical ammonium nitrate.

"This yearlong review, which was done at the request of a group of 10 automakers, comes as the federal government continues investigating whether the recall of 29 million [air bags] should be raised to 90 million."

The second development had to do with the government's investigation into the Takata air bag defect and the company's response. The Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation published a report Tuesday that condemned the company for manipulating safety testing data and for its "broken safety culture." Based on internal documents dating from 2004 to 2010, the committee determined that Takata, which has already been fined more than $200 million, faked data about safety tests, even after the recalls began.

"Documents and emails provided to Committee minority staff show that Takata continued to manipulate and alter testing data in 2010, even after recalls in 2008 and 2009 and two fatalities in 2009 linked to rupturing inflators," part of the report read.

It concluded:

"Committee minority staff believe that the emails and other documents referenced above represent, at the very least, a failure by Takata to ensure the integrity of its testing of inflators or to respond appropriately to ethical concerns raised to senior Takata personnel. These apparent testing manipulations and the failure by Takata to address them raise concerns about the safety of all ammonium nitrate-based Takata airbag inflators."

The committee recommended that NHTSA phase out Takata ammonium nitrate-based air bags as soon as possible, accelerate the production of replacement air bags and more effectively manage the recall process to "avoid consumer confusion."

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