“It is an absolute disgrace that 3M would purposefully provide defective equipment to U.S. service members, knowing that those service members would rely on that defective equipment in combat. Their fraud resulted in lifelong injuries to America’s warriors. 3M’s actions cannot, and should not, be tolerated.” These are just some of the words used in an opening salvo of lawsuits filed against 3M over claims that it knowingly sold defective and ill-designed earplugs to the United States military for use by its members.
Allegations indicate that the corporation might have known about the defects in its Combat Arms earplugs as far back as 2000 and chose not to act. After failing testing to prove that the earplugs could successfully block enough noise to protect the hearing of the soldiers wearing them, 3M allegedly falsified certification documents that indicated that the earplugs met military specifications.
According to the Military Times, the U.S. government’s contract with 3M started in 2006. The terms of the contract called for 750,000 earplugs to be supplied to the armed forces per year. In exchange, the government guaranteed 3M at least $9 million in sales for each year the contract was active. The earplugs were discontinued by 3M in 2015, but no recall was issued for existing product that had already been sold or manufactured.
Combat Arms earplugs were designed as a dual-sided earplug that could fit multiple use cases. By using one side, the earplugs would block all extraneous sounds. However, by flipping the earplug, the opposite side would block concussive and dangerously loud sounds but allow other sound through. This allowed the wearer to hear orders and maintain situational awareness while blocking the sounds of gunfire, explosions, or other dangerously loud sounds they might be exposed to.
3M recently settled the issue with the government for just $9 million, or the cost of one year of sales. However, hundreds of veterans have claimed that after using the earplugs and believing their hearing was being protected, they now suffer from ailments like tinnitus (or a constant ringing of the ears), as well as hearing loss and issues with controlling balance. So, while the corporation might have gotten off easy with the government itself, it still faces the consequences of failing the brave men and women who suffered as a result of its failure and possible cover-up.