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Maker Says Body Armor Fiber Passed Strength Tests

March 11, 2004|Scott Gold | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON — The manufacturer of a synthetic fiber used inside bulletproof vests said Wednesday that its product had withstood a series of grueling tests, suggesting it was not to blame for the allegedly defective protective gear worn by thousands of police officers nationwide.

Toyobo Co., the Japanese firm that makes Zylon -- a fiber used inside more than 100 brands of bulletproof vests and body armor -- said it had completed a study of the material's strength. Researchers found that the fiber was not harmed, the company said, after being exposed to 104-degree heat and 80% relative humidity for 20 months.

The disclosure of the manufacturer's study -- in an e-mail sent to reporters Wednesday night -- was designed to blunt criticism of Toyobo, as well as allegations that the fiber loses some of its protective strength over time.

It was the latest salvo in a dispute over the integrity of the bulletproof vests worn by as many as 200,000 police officers.

Concern arose last summer after an undercover officer was shot in the abdomen while trying to make an arrest in Pennsylvania. One .40-caliber bullet penetrated the front panel of his vest.

Second Chance Inc., the nation's largest and oldest maker of body armor, then said it was blowing the whistle on Zylon. The Central Lake, Mich.-based company, which built the vest the Pennsylvania officer was wearing, charged that Zylon loses 30% of its strength after about two years.

Toyobo and Second Chance blame each other for the vests' alleged problems.

Second Chance executives could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Several states have launched investigations into the integrity of the vests and the fiber at their core. U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft also has begun a probe into the safety of body armor.

Toyobo said the results of its endurance testing were sent to Ashcroft's aides earlier this week.

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