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A dispute between U.S. safety regulators and air bag maker Takata Corp. escalated Wednesday when the government threatened fines and legal action unless the company admits that driver's air bag inflators are defective and agrees to a nationwide recall. In a letter to Takata's Washington office, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Japanese company until Tuesday to file paperwork declaring a defect and expanding the recall beyond high-humidity states to the full nation. The company's air bags have been blamed for at least five deaths and multiple injuries worldwide. They can inflate with too much force, blowing apart a mental canister and spewing shrapnel.
The letter is the first step in a legal process to compel a nationwide recall. Takata has maintained that the air bag problems are caused by prolonged exposure to airborne moisture, and that there's no need for a national recall. Moisture can make the chemical propellant in the air bags burn too fast. Boundaries of the recall zone vary by manufacturer, but generally it covers Gulf Coast states, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and some U.S. territories. A company spokesman was working on a response Wednesday. About 8 million vehicles from 10 manufacturers have been recalled in the U.S., and 14 million worldwide.