(NaturalNews) Automobile airbags, which have been mandatory in the United States and other countries for almost two decades, have long been touted as life savers. What hasn't been widely told is that every air bag in every vehicle is a potential death trap and a growing danger to the environment due to a chemical compound used to inflate airbags which is every bit as toxic as sodium cyanide. That deadly compound is sodium azide.
Sodium azide (NaN3) is a highly volatile and highly poisonous compound which is used to inflate airbags when a collision causes the sodium azide to violently explode and inflate the airbags. However, even in minute amounts it can kill everything from bacteria and fungi to animals and humans. The presence of the deadly compound represents a serious threat to vehicle occupants, rescuers and others who might come into contact with it as well as an increasing threat to the environment.
Ingesting or absorbing as little as 50 milligrams (less than two-thousandths of an ounce) can cause the average adult to collapse into a coma-like state within five minutes. Blood pressure will drop and the heart will go into tachycardia. Ingestion of only a few grams can result in death in as little as 30 minutes.
Studies dating as far back as 1970 show that sodium azide kills or degrades the seeds of many plants at 10 parts per million in the soil. At 200 ppm, it not only sterilizes the soil - but also changes soil chemistry and kills all soil bacteria and fungi.
The increasing threat to humans and the environment from sodium azide
Little is presently known about the environmental effects of sodium azide. However, what is known is that sodium azide is water-soluble and that spills could possibly migrate into the water table via sewers, streams, lakes, and groundwater systems.
When wet, sodium azide produces hydrazoic acid - a volatile compound which also represents a potential threat to vehicle occupants, rescuers, recovery agents and even sanitation workers and others that may come in contact with the acid or hydrazoic acid gas. Additionally, scrapped airbags sit like environmental time bombs in the myriad of automobile salvage yards that we see in most communities.
On March 26, 2005 at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco, atmospheric scientist Eric A. Betterton of the University of Arizona stated that "scientists really don't know where or how all this sodium azide will inevitably wreak greatest environmental havoc".
"Given the huge surge in production, there exists a greatly increased potential for significant accidental spills and subsequent human and environmental exposure to this material."
Although sodium azide is already used in many industrial products, such as explosives, detonators, anticorrosion solutions, broad-spectrum biocides and airline safety chutes, with the advancement of passive vehicle safety systems a much larger threat to our environment has emerged over the last 15 years. Much of that threat is likely to come from automobile salvage yards where automobiles are crushed and taken apart with little or no regard for the potential dangers lurking in airbags. The vast majority of vehicles with airbags remain on the road today. The more that huge fleet of vehicles ages, the greater the risk becomes of harmful exposures to humans and the environment.
As Betterton stated, the increased demand for airbags and the aging vehicle fleets over the next few decades will result in amounts of sodium azide which "will greatly exceed the approximated 5 million kilograms (11 million pounds) that has already been incorporated into airbag inflators in the United States alone."