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Defective combat earplugs sold by 3M may have caused U.S. military personnel to face an increased risk of hearing loss or tinnitus, leading the manufacturer to pay a settlement of more than $9 million to the Department of Justice last year.
Justice Department officials say 3M sold its Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) to the Defense Logistics Agency knowing the products may be too short to properly fit in users’ ears, resulting in a risk that the seal may be lost and expose veterans to hearing damage.
The defective Combat Arms Earplugs, which are now discontinued, may have caused U.S. soldiers who trusted their equipment to work properly to suffer tinnitus, hearing loss and other ear problems. This means that not only did the U.S. military pay out for earplugs that did not work, but also likely had to pay for medical expenses that could have been avoided.
In July 2018, 3M and the Department of Justice reached a $9.1 million agreement to resolve allegations against the company. The case came due to a lawsuit filed in May 2016 under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act. As part of the law, the whistleblower will receive just under $2 million.
“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the men and women serving in the United States military from defective products and fraudulent conduct,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler said in a press release at the time. “Government contractors who seek to profit at the expense of our military will face appropriate consequences.”
However, it is unclear how many soldiers were injured by the earplugs, and how many have left the service and sought medical treatment on their own for ear damage they do not realize was due to the defective earplugs.
The CAEv2 earplugs were reversible devices that served as traditional earplugs one way, and then, when flipped over, were supposed to work as sound filtration devices. This means they were supposed to block loud noises and let in quiet ones. However, they were too short to properly fit in the ear effectively, and would not properly seal the ear canal, meaning they would not work adequately.
The earplugs were first designed and sold by Aearo Technologies, which 3M acquired in 2008. They were sold to the U.S. military from January 2006 through December 2015.
3M Company has denied there are problems with the Combat Arms earplugs, and refused to admit liability as part of the settlement agreement.