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EPA issues guidance on undeployed airbag modules and inflators

September 7, 2018
An Environmental Protection Agency memo issued this summer addresses the management of undeployed airbag modules and inflators. 
For several years, clarification was sought from the EPA on how the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which governs the management of hazardous and nonhazardous solid wastes, applies to the materials. The effort was driven largely by several adverse state agency positions, by the Takata-related and other federal safety recalls applicable to these parts and by off-site management costs and liability concerns. 
The EPA memo addresses the following six scenarios:
1. New, never-installed modules and inflators: parts found in dealership inventory that are not suitable for installation, such as mistaken orders and parts subject to a federal safety recall or OEM campaign. Dealerships should return those parts to the OEM or deploy them on-site for legitimate recovery of the scrap metal, unless the OEM instructs otherwise.   
2. Used modules and inflators that can be legitimately reused: many non-recalled parts recovered by recyclers. (Note: The National Automobile Dealers Association generally recommends against the installation of used parts for vehicle repairs.)  
3. Used modules installed in used vehicles: parts typically managed by scrap processors processing vehicles. 
4. Used modules removed from vehicles that can be safely deployed electronically onsite: most recalled non-Takata modules. Dealerships should safely deploy these modules onsite consistent with OEM instructions/guidance, if any.
5. Used modules removed from vehicles that cannot be safely deployed on-site: most recalled Takata modules. Dealerships should follow applicable OEM instructions for these parts, which may include shipment to the OEM or to a third party.  
6. Used inflators that cannot be legitimately reused: Dealerships should not deploy these onsite for scrap metal reclamation and should generally manage them as hazardous waste.  
The NADA is working with the OEM trade associations to encourage consistent communications in recall notices, service bulletins and otherwise, on how modules and inflators should be properly managed and on how management costs will be reimbursed. 
Since the RCRA allows state waste management programs to impose different and even stricter mandates, dealerships should be made aware of any additional state requirements in this area. 
Contrary to numerous YouTube videos on the topic, dealerships deploying modules onsite should also recognize that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s General Duty Clause requires that workplaces be kept free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.