3M Knowingly Sold the U.S. Department of Defense Earplugs, Putting Active Duty Soldiers at Risk for Hearing Loss

In 2018, a judge for the Department of Justice ordered 3M to pay $9.1 million in damages to veterans who were injured after using their dual ended Combat Arms Earplugs (CAEv2).

For a free case review with a 3M defective earplugs lawyer Nashville, TN has to offer, please call The Higgins Firm right away.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, hearing loss, tinnitus, and other hearing problems is the most prevalent “service connected” medical condition among veterans. As of 2017, at least one million U.S. military veterans were receiving disability for hearing loss. Another 1.6 million U.S. military veterans were receiving disability for tinnitus. It is thought that both of these numbers are much higher, but some veterans have not yet noticed, or reported, their symptoms.

All active duty service members are required to wear special earplugs to protect their ear drums. According to a lawsuit filed by 3M’s competitor Moldex-Metric, Inc., they claimed the company made false statements to the U.S. Government specifically regarding their dual ended Combat Arms Earplugs (CAEv2).

The product was issued between 2003 and 2015 to deployed service members in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moldex-Metric, Inc. says the hearing protection provided to millions of personnel may have done very little good and likely caused thousands of veterans to suffer from long term, if not permanent, tinnitus and hearing loss. The U.S. Department of Justice joined the whistleblower in the lawsuit.

It was found that the 3M earplug were too short; therefore, they were unable to “seal” the ear canal on some users. This resulted in the ear plugs becoming loosened; thereby allowing dangerous levels of sound to unknowingly enter the ear.

3M’s Combat Arms earplugs were developed by Aearo Technologies, Inc. In 2008, 3M bought the company and retained the employees who developed and tested the ear plugs.

As early as 2000, Aearo Technologies, Inc. were testing the dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs. At this time, they became aware of certain defects that reduced their effectiveness. These tests were never revealed to the U.S. Military. In 2003, Aearo Technologies won a military defense contract worth millions of dollars.

3M Falsely Says their Ear Plugs Are in Compliance with U.S. Military Expectations and Standards

The U.S. Military has strict standards for any product that will be used by active duty service members, including ear plugs. Specifically they were to allow the wearer to hear normal speech and quieter sounds, but protect them from impulse noises like firearms. The were also supposed to be free of any defect, have a certain rating for noise reduction, and include instructions on how to use them.

In order to meet standards so high, Aearo had to rest the Combat Arms earplugs and certify them. Unlike other companies who hire an independent testing firm, Aearo required their employees to test the product, using 10 subjects, for:

  1. The ability to hear without the earplugs
  2. The ability to hear with the earplug inserted in the open position
  3. The ability to hear with the earplug inserted in the closed position

Upon testing 8 subjects, the tests for the closed position were stopped. The expected results for a Noise Reduction Rating were 22; however, they showed 10.9 on average. Some of the subject were showing less and others more, the reason for this was because the earplugs were becoming lose in the ear.

Tests on the open position resulted in a Noise Reduction Rating of a -2 which meant that the earplugs actually amplified the sound. According to the lawsuit, the company changed the results to 0.

During the test period, employees also discovered the earplug stem was too short which could result in a loosened earplug and inefficiency of it’s capabilities.

Further testing showed manual manipulation to get the earplugs to work. These specific fitting instructions were never included into the packaging. Rather, the only instructions were to insert the ear plugs into the ear canal.

The results of the findings in the 3M investigation were shocking. This has led to 3M agreeing to pay back the government and pay $9.1 million in damages. The whistleblower, Moldex-Metric, INC. will receive $1.9 million.

If you or a loved one was serving in active duty in the U.S Military between 2003 and 2015 and suffered hearing loss or tinnitus, it may be because of defective earplugs made by 3M. You should consult a 3M defective earplug lawyer Nashville, TN veterans can count on from The Higgins Firm.

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