On Tuesday, August 23, a truck crashed, caught fire, and exploded in the small town of Quemado near Eagle Pass, Texas. The explosion leveled the nearby home of Lucila Robles, killing her, and left debris more than two miles away. On Monday, August 29, Takata Corp., the troubled airbag manufacturer, confirmed that the truck was carrying Takata airbag inflators with their ammonium nitrate propellant. Takata has a warehouse in Eagle Pass and a factory across the border in Monclava, Mexico.
Takata airbags have been blamed for at least 11 deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide and have been subject to a massive recall. The Japanese manufacturer has been faulted for the use of ammonium nitrate as a propellant to inflate its airbags since 2002, because ammonium nitrate can deteriorate and become more volatile when exposed to changes in temperature and moisture. This can result in a more violent explosion, propelling fragments of the metal casing like shrapnel into the car’s occupants. Previously, Takata used tetrazole, a more expensive but more stable propellant.
Texas is no stranger to ammonium nitrate explosions. The deadliest industrial accident in American history, the 1947 Texas City disaster, occurred when a ship carrying 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded, resulting in the deaths of 568 people in one of the largest artificial non-nuclear explosions ever recorded. More recently, ammonium nitrate was the culprit in the 2013 West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15.