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Questions and Answers about Exposure to Sodium Azide

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  • Questions and Answers about Exposure to Sodium Azide

    A question about one of the chemicals that is inside an undeployed chemical airbag inflator unit;

    I am a volunteer firefighter in Tennessee. We are currently studying extrication in our Firefighter 1 course. I would like to find out some more information about air bag safety. We have discussed that when an
    airbag bursts, Sodium Azide and Potassium Nitrate are released in the air.These chemicals are poisonous to rescue workers as well as victims in the vehicles. They also can explode when they get wet (Does this include IV fluids as well as water?). If you have any information on these chemicals
    and how rescue workers can be aware of the potential dangers and what to do about them, I would greatly appreciate you sending it to me. I am responsible for keeping our firefighters updated on any material that would
    affect them physically, so I would like to know how to treat anyone exposed
    to these chemicals. Thanks so much.
    + + + + +
    My Reply:

    What you have been told about airbags is NOT accurate. It is NOT possible for an airbag to 'burst' and release sodium azide or any solid chemical into the air. The azide and the potassium nitrate along with other ingredients is sealed inside a container deep inside the airbag inflator module. It is not possible for a rescuer to get into this module and tear the container open. Won't happen.

    When a chemical inflator system airbag deploys, it is filled with nitrogen gas, the by-product of the reaction of the sodium azide and other chemicals due to a crash. The bag fills with the gases and deploys in front of the occupants.

    Airbag deployment can cause injuries to occupants who are seated too close to the bag or who are out of position. Abrasion brush burns, bruising of the cheeks, even a broken bone is possible. A vehicle occupant or a rescuer won't be exposed to the chemical that generates the airbag gas but will breathe these fumes and inhale the dust inside a vehicle many times during their career.

    For details on occupant airbag injuries, check out the NHTSA site at www.nhtsa.dot.gov and follow the links for airbags and airbag safety.

    There is another type of airbag inflator system; used mostly for seat, door and roof-mounted airbag systems. These are called stored gas. They typically use a pressurized cylinder of argon and helium gas to fill the side impact airbag. I just wrote an article about this technology in a recent monthly University of Extrication column in Firehouse magazine. Check out the back issues for the story on the Audi A-6 system.

    Also, please check out the archive section of the University of Extrication section of our website. My back issues are there. there is a lot of info on safety around undeployed airbags. You should be more concerned with things like staying out of the airbag inflation zones than worrying about contact with a chemical.

    Once you have taken these first steps in learning about airbags, please contact me directly so I can lead you to the next level of information.

    Ron Moore
    [email protected]
    Fire Training Manager
    Plano (TX) Fire Rescue
    (214) 728-6776
    Ron Moore, Forum Moderator

  • #2
    C'mon peoples! Get the word out there about these forums!

    We've discussed this and similar airbag topics in the archives of the forums. There is so much for people to learn about these systems and so many questions such as these have been answered in depth.....

    It concerns me as to how "blind" some departments are as to the dangers or non-dangers with airbags and other safety devices such as these.

    Help each other!!!!


    • #3
      As someone who had his airbag meet his face just 2 weeks ago.. I'm with the other guys, nothing that came out of that bag was poisonous, let alone irritating. There is plenty of factual info out there, don't rely on stories.


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