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EPA Clarifies Undeployed Airbag Status and Prepares Interim Final Rule For Recalled Defective Takata Airbags

EPA recently clarified the status of undeployed airbags in the recycling stream in a July 19, 2018 memo after issuing a memo last year that created great uncertainty and confusion about their status.

In the 2018 memo, EPA stated for the first time that undeployed airbag units remaining in a vehicle as installed are considered part of the vehicle during recycling and thus exempt scrap metal when shredded, deployed inside the shredder, and added to the shredded metal product. EPA also stated that non-defective fully assembled airbag modules that are reusable but not reused in another vehicle are also exempt scrap metal when safely electronically deployed and recycled with other scrap metal. Removed fully assembled Takata airbag modules do not qualify for this scrap metal exemption because they cannot be safely deployed electronically due to their defective nature. Instead, removed fully assembled Takata airbag modules and inflators are considered spent material, thus solid waste, and further hazardous waste because they are reactive. The memo addresses other situations as well.

Because of the hazardous waste status associated with tens of millions of defective Takata airbags under recall, EPA is preparing an interim final rule to ease the handling requirements for defective Takata airbags and similarly defective airbags. Their hazardous waste status imposes logistical challenges and costs on anyone generating a defective Takata airbag by removing it from a vehicle (e.g., auto service center and auto dismantler). According to the pre-rule notice, “EPA intends to facilitate the speed and efficiency of the Takata airbag recall by exempting the collection of defective airbags and airbag inflators from auto dealers and scrap yards from hazardous waste requirements, so long as certain conditions are met to ensure the airbags and airbag inflators are safely disposed.” Once issued in the Federal Register, an interim final rule takes immediate effect. EPA may take comment on it either via the interim final rule itself or via a second parallel Federal Register notice. The expected timing of the interim final rule and any parallel notice for comment is sometime in December 2018.

ISRI has not yet seen the text of the interim final rule and will share it with members when obtained. Questions on the EPA memos or interim final rule should be directed to ISRI Chief Scientist/Director of Environmental Management David Wagger at (202) 662-8533.

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