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Warning: Body armor may be defective
Maker: Vests may not be bullet-resistant

Thursday, June 23, 2005; Posted: 2:10 a.m. EDT (06:10 GMT)

CNN) -- A maker of body armor said Wednesday that nearly 100,000 of its vests may not be bullet-resistant and urged police departments nationwide to replace them.

Second Chance Body Armor said it issued the safety notices after research "showed that protective vests constructed only partially from Zylon may fail to perform and result in serious injury or death."

The company has received no reports of field failures, but "we felt it was our obligation to report these new research findings immediately," said Matt Davis, vice president of sales and marketing.

Zylon was introduced in body armor in the late 1990s as a lighter alternative to fabrics such as Kevlar. Second Chance introduced its products with Zylon in 1998.

The notices apply to about 58,000 Tri-Flex vests and another 40,000 Ultima and Ultimax vests with Performance Pacs and recommended they be replaced with products that do not contain Zylon.

But, the company added in a statement posted on its Web site, some protection is better than none, and "until the affected vests are replaced, officers should continue to wear" them.

Second Chance, which filed last year for bankruptcy, plans "to petition the bankruptcy court for a procedure for police departments and safety officers to present claims that may result from this new information."

The company, based in Central Lake, Michigan, describes itself as "the nation's largest manufacturer of modern, wearable, concealable body armor."

"The safety and well-being of all the officers who wear our body armor is of primary importance to Second Chance and we strongly encourage all officers to replace ballistic vests that contain Zylon as quickly as possible," the statement said.

The problems are industry-wide, he said, adding that the company is "aggressively pursuing litigation" against the fiber's maker, Toyobo Co., Ltd., based in Osaka, Japan.

Toyobo officials did not immediately return an e-mail message or a phone call seeking comment.

In September 2003, testing of used vests containing only Zylon "showed degradation problems with the fiber that potentially shortened the wearable life of the vest," Second Chance said.

The company filed for bankruptcy in October 2004 after recalling more than 130,000 vests made wholly of Zylon, but it did not recall vests made of Zylon blended with other protective fibers.

But further investigation by a polymer chemist found the material contained up to eight times the desired level of acids that can result in the rapid and dramatic loss of strength in the clothing, the company said.

"These test results lead us to believe that even products that contain relatively low percentages of Zylon by weight may fail to perform as expected," Davis said.

"In our line of business, any potential failure is unacceptable, and we moved immediately to alert our customers -- and others within our industry -- of this problem."
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