Man dies from inhaling air bag gases

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A UK man is the first known to have died from inhaling the toxic fumes from a deployed air bag. Image: bugeaters/Flickr/CC BY

A motorist in England suffered a minor crash last fall that caused his air bag to deploy. However, the bag punctured in the accident, leading to the man’s death from inhaling the poisonous fumes.

Air bag deployed, punctured

Ronald Smith, of Mardsen, South Shields, was driving his Vauxhall Insignia home from work in Hartlepool, England, in November, 2010, when he was involved in a six-car pile-up collision. Bad as that sounds, Smith was not physically injured. However, the car hit with sufficient force to deploy the safety airbag. A window was also shattered in the impact, which punctured the air bag.

While Smith, a 59 year-old engineer and father of two, walked away from the accident, he also inhaled the noxious fumes and “white Powder” escaping from the air bag.

Death from bronchial pneumonia

A short time later, 59, Smith began to complain of chest pains and breathing troubles. He was placed on a ventilator at South Tyneside District Hospital in January, 2011, where he died three weeks later. The cause of death was listed as bronchial pneumonia.

The coroner, Terence Carney, reported:

“This man died as a result of this incident and more pointedly because of the explosion of his airbag, and this death should be recorded as misadventure.”

Toxic powder in air bags

Sodium azide is a chemical used to inflate air bags. The chemical turns into nitrogen gas when heated, inflating the safety device. Sodium azide is a highly toxic substance. However, at this time, Smith’s is the only known case in which its deployment proved fatal to a human being.

June Smith, Ronald’s widow, told reporters:

“I knew from the very beginning that it was the airbag. I just knew, but other people would look at me as if to say, ‘Don’t be silly.’ Ronnie told me about the white powder straightaway. He said there was so much of it he couldn’t see … It’s just not fair that you have to lose someone because of something that is meant to save a life.”

Automaker investigates incident

The automaker Vauxhall, a subsidiary of General Motors, said that it is investigating the matter, but made no further comment.

[Looking for where to buy a car? You found it.]

No sources cited mentioned why it has taken nearly a year and a half for this story to break.


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