WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday it will waive some hazardous waste regulations for auto dealers and businesses disposing of airbags, a decision designed to ensure proper disposal of potentially deadly Takata air bag inflators.
Dealers will instead send airbag parts to a certified disposal facility that will then handle the airbags under hazardous waste rules, the agency said. It said that otherwise, dealers may feel overwhelmed by regulations and be tempted to dispose of airbag parts in the municipal waste stream.
"Today's action will help auto dealers and scrap recyclers across the country protect public health and properly dispose of these defective airbags inflators," said EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
Most airbag inflators use oxidizers in the propellant that deploys the bag, which leads them to be classified as hazardous waste, the EPA said. It said automakers were worried dealers could trigger rules requiring additional costs as hazardous waste generators by handling the inflators.
Without the changes, the EPA warned, dealers might "slow down or stop removing recalled airbag inflators altogether." Also, the agency wants to ensure the recalled inflators are destroyed so unscrupulous vendors do not try to sell them again as parts.
Takata and its U.S. unit, TK Holdings Inc, filed for bankruptcy last year after the largest automotive recall in history. The company's air bags can inflate with too much force and spray metal fragments, and have been linked to hundreds of injuries and at least 23 deaths worldwide, including 15 in the United States and at least 290 injuries.
Up until recently, dealers had to send recalled Takata inflators to Takata warehouses for long-term storage. EPA said the rule was prompted because now dealers can send them directly for disposal, triggering the hazardous waste rules.
To date, 19 automakers have recalled or agreed to recall nearly 70 million U.S. inflators, and about 100 million worldwide.
In April, auto components maker Key Safety Systems completed a $1.6 billion deal to acquire Takata. The merged company is now known as Joyson Safety Systems and is a subsidiary of Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said at least 15.8 million recalled air bag inflators still are unrepaired. Some deaths and serious injuries have involved recalled air bags that were reinstalled in another vehicle.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and David Shepardson in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)