The federal government is taking new steps to force a recall of 52 million airbag inflators over the risk of explosions that could injure or kill people.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Tuesday it decided the airbag inflators made by ARC Automotive Inc. and licensed by another company are defective and can throw shrapnel and explode, which can fatally maim drivers and passengers. The agency announced it has scheduled a public meeting for Oct. 5, which it must do before it asks for a court-ordered recall.

The agency said based on its investigation, it believes the explosions could come from weld slag, which is a byproduct of some welding processes.

A weld slag of “sufficient size” can become dislodged and rupture the inflator when the airbag deploys, causing shrapnel to fly toward the passenger, the agency said. It also said it expects additional ruptures to occur in the future, “risking more serious injuries and deaths, if they are not recalled and replaced.”

The agency asked the company to recall the inflators in May, citing the mechanism as being responsible for at least seven injuries and two deaths in the United States and Canada since 2009. The company has maintained that there is no defect and that the agency’s demand is rooted in a hypothesis rather than a technical conclusion.

NHTSA pushed back against ARC’s argument in its initial decision regarding its airbags Tuesday. 

“ARC inappropriately minimizes the severity of risk from its rupturing inflators by describing these events as manufacturing anomalies or a part of normal business,” the agency said.

“Specifically, ARC characterized the ruptures as ‘isolated events’ and ‘an inevitable part of any volume manufacturing process.’ NHTSA rejects any suggestion that the seven inflator ruptures are in some way normal or to be expected, absent a safety defect.”

The Hill has reached out to ARC for comment.

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