In July 2019, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) issued an enforcement discretion letter regarding the management of vehicle airbags.

This letter followed the United State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) November 2018 final rule regarding the collection and disposal of recalled defective airbags manufactured by the Takata Corporation. The NYSDEC has not included yet this EPA airbags regulation into their 6 NYCRR Part 370 thru Part 376 Hazardous Waste Management regulations, and therefore they are still using the enforcement discretion letter to address the management of waste airbags in New York State, which provisions will stay in effect until the EPA regulation will be adopted.

In their enforcement discretion letter, the NYSDEC includes auto dealers in the definition of the “airbags waste handler”, which identifies “any person who generate airbag waste”, defined as “any hazardous waste airbag modules or hazardous waste airbag inflator”. Airbags become “waste airbags” when they are removed from a vehicle. New York State prohibits the sale or reuse of waste airbags, as per the Vehicle and Traffic Law (VAT) Title 4, Article 16, Section 415-c. This means that undeployed airbags that are removed from any vehicle are a hazardous waste and subject to the applicable hazardous waste regulations in New York State. However, NYSDEC is enforcing different requirements depending on the recall status and the management of the waste airbags

Defective Air Bags

If auto dealers are handling the defective airbags as per the following NYSDEC provisions, and as long as they are managed within NYS borders, those defective airbags can be considered non-hazardous, and therefore not subject to 6 NYCRR Part 372 thru 374:

  • The quantity of the airbags waste accumulated (either modules or inflator) is less than 250 units, and stored for no longer than 180 days;
  • The waste airbags are packaged in specifically designed containers which must be labeled as “Airbags Waste – Do Not Resue;
  • The container(s) is sent directly to either
    • An airbag waste collection facility in the US, defined as a facility that collects and stores airbags waste for more than ten days and is under the control of a vehicle manufacturer (or authorized representative);  or
    • under the control of an authorized party administering a remedy program in response to a recall under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration;  or
    • a designated facility as defined in 40 CFR 260.10 and 6 NYCRR 370.2(b) (i.e. a facility used for treating, storing, or disposing of hazardous waste)
  • the transport of waste airbags must comply with US DOT and NYSDEC Part 364 regulations;
  • the auto dealers must keep shipping records and confirmation of receipt for three (3) years, including all records demonstrating that the airbags were shipped to an authorized facility which will need to comply with the hazardous waste regulations set forth in 6 NYCRR Part 372;
  • Reuse of recalled defective airbag is prohibited under 40 CFR 261.2(g) (i.e. sham recycling)

Non- Defective Air Bags (ND Airbags)

Auto dealers must follow the provision described above to manage non-defective air bags. However NYSDEC, gives them the following option, provided that the non defective airbags are safe to deploy:

  • ND Airbags can be deployed while still installed in a vehicle that will be recycled for scrap metal value. This is considered an exempt treatment.
  • Auto dealers that are Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Hazardous Waste Generators (CESQGs), including the weight of the waste airbags, can deploy airbags in accordance with manufacturer and safety guidelines. In this case, ND Deployed airbags are NOT considered hazardous waste, but only ordinary solid waste.  
  • Auto dealers that are Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) or Large Quantity Generators (LQGs) can only deploy airbags if the airbags are directed for metal recycling under the hazardous scrap metal exemption and they deploy the airbags in accordance with manufacturer and safety guidelines. If an SQG or LQG auto dealer wants to send the waste airbags for recycling, they must submit a notification to DEC prior to deploying the airbags.
  • Again, Undeployed waste airbags must be managed as hazardous waste and should be sent for recycling (not reuse) or disposal.

Dealers can avoid violations, fines, and legal action by staying educated on hazardous waste rules, including waste airbags.

If you think your facility might fall under this NYSDEC enforcement discretion letter, or if you have any doubts about its applicability, please contact Walden Environmental Engineering for a free consultation to discuss any issue about the NYSDEC waste airbags regulations or any other environmental, health and safety compliance issue under Federal, State or Local jurisdiction.