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The Takata airbags investigation just got a lot bigger

A deployed Takata manufactured airbag is seen on the driver's side of a 2007 Dodge Charger vehicle at a recycled auto parts lot in DetroitA deployed Takata manufactured airbag is seen on the driver's side of a 2007 Dodge Charger vehicle at a recycled auto parts lot in Detroit
A deployed Takata manufactured airbag is seen on the driver's side of a 2007 Dodge Charger vehicle at a recycled auto parts lot in Detroit, Michigan May 20, 2015. Japanese air bag manufacturer Takata Corp is doubling a recall of potentially deadly air bags to nearly 34 million vehicles, making it the largest automotive recall in American history, U.S. safety regulators said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook - RTX1DUEYPhotograph by Rebecca Cook — Reuters

The Takata airbag inquiry has just widened to include side airbags, the New York Times reports. The investigation was originally focused on airbags situated in front of the driver’s seat and the front passenger seat. If the company finds that its side airbags are defective as well, it may have to broaden the investigation even further.

So far, over 19 million vehicles produced by 12 car manufacturers have been recalled in the U.S. with millions more recalled overseas. Just last weekend, General Motors recalled 400 U.S. cars when side airbags for those vehicles failed in testing.

The defective airbags have been known to rupture, spewing metal fragments. So far they have been linked to 8 deaths and dozens of injuries.

The original investigation was limited to older airbags because the company believed that aging was a significant factor in their failings, but the investigation has had to expand to all model years because the latest recall involves cars that are under a year old.

Takata spokesperson Jared Levy has said that the company does not believe that the newer recalls are related to the previous ones because “extensive data suggests [they] were a result of aging and long-term exposure to heat and high humidity.” He says that the company is currently investigating the defects and believes that they are likely due to the use of phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate (PSAN), a chemical compound that Takata uses to inflate the airbags.

Spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Gordon Trowbridge, stated that all Takata airbags that contain that chemical compound are being investigated. Patents that the company had filed show that its engineers knew about the potentially dangerous effects of PSAN. Engineers formerly employed by the company say that they voiced their concerns, but they were disregarded.