Feds Issue Open Call for Takata Whistleblowers

Jan 29, 2015 05:00 PM EST | Jordan Ecarma

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is searching for whistleblowers with information on Takata's explosive air bags, which have been related to at least five deaths and dozens of injuries.

Would-be informants can call 1-888-327-4236 and will be guaranteed legal protection by NHTSA, Reuters reported in an exclusive.

"We encourage all individuals with information about the manufacture or testing of Takata air bag inflators, or who have knowledge of possible defects or any wrongdoing by the company, to make this information available to NHTSA," agency spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said.

When asked for a comment, Takata told Reuters, "We are committed to working with NHTSA and our automotive customers to ensure the safety of the driving public."

Takata's disorganized documentation has reportedly made it difficult for the company to pinpoint which vehicles were equipped with the problematic air bags. The inflators can cause the air bags to explode, spraying the vehicle's occupants with shrapnel.

According to Reuters interviews with six former Takata employees, some workers "were asked to hide or alter data that showed certain parts and materials did not meet Takata's specifications or indicated potential issues with key components such as inflators and cushions."

More than 20 million cars equipped with Takata air bags have been recalled in markets worldwide. It is believed that material used to make the air bags was exposed to moisture during improper storage.

Initially, Takata and automakers issued limited regional recalls for vehicles registered in areas with high humidity, which seems to exacerbate the air bag problem.

According to former Takata employee Mark Lillie, the company began using volatile ammonium nitrate as a propellant even though some Takata engineers thought it was unsafe. The propellant was used after Lillie left the company in 1999.

"I literally said if we go forward with this, someone will be killed," Lillie told Reuters. "I couldn't in good faith pump this stuff out believing that it was unsafe to put in front of a passenger in a car."

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