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The Minneapolis based 3M company made the Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs that were employed by armed services personnel from 2003 to 2015 during fighting and training exercises to protect soldier hearing from gunfire and explosions. Hearing problems are the most frequent issues suffered by veterans so ear defense is a major concern for American soldiers. Based on different scenarios, the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs were created to offer two different amounts of defense. The dual-ended earplugs have a design that is very recognizable. As their name implies, they were made of of two outward facing plugs, one green and one yellow.
While the yellow part was inserted inside the ear, this is called as Weapons Fire mode. This mode was designed to offer normal hearing for top situational alertness. It would let staff to communicate, accept commands and listen to other important sounds in the combat field while still providing protection from top level sounds like gunfire and explosions. This would have been the desired scenario in combat situations.
When the green end was inserted into the ear, this was known as Closed Protection mode. Constant Protection was created to block all sounds more thoroughly in order to provide full protection. According to
earplug lawsuit , this mode is for high level steady sound scenarios such as those in tracked vehicles and air support. This level could have additionally been used in many standard training exercises and environments as well.
Claimed Hearing Risks
Combat Arms EarplugsManufactured by 3M and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc, Dual Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) that were created for military use and used extensively by thousands of personnel deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 to 2015. The CAEV2 was made to let two different protection settings, Weapons Fire mode and Constant Protection mode. The appropriate setting is determined by which part of the earplug is inserted into the ear, yellow means Weapons Fire mode, green means Constant Protection mode. Weapons Fire mode is designed to allow for hearing speaking and communicating yet still protecting against damaging sound levels from gunfire and explosions. The Constant Protection level blocked all noise more fully that was useful for staff operating in track vehicles, in air support or while regular training. Both settings were purported to block noise up to a certain standard but in current legal action, the government has claimed that neither mode of the ear plug met the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) which 3M claimed due to an unreported design error.
$9.1 million Settlement Between 3M and the U.S. Government
During July of 2018, the U.S. DOJ reported that 3M had agreed to pay $9.1 million in order to resolve allegations that the company knowingly sold the Combat Arms Earplugs v2 to the American military without disclosing defects that declined the effectiveness of the hearing protection device. The lawsuit was originally placed in 2016 under the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act which permits private citizens to sue on behalf of the federal government when they think that a defendant has submitted false claims for government funds. In this case, the whistleblower was awarded $1,911,000 for their part in the lawsuit.
According to the DOJ press announcement, the settlement took care of allegations that 3M violated the False Claims Act by marketing or causing to be sold defective earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency. Specifically, the United States claimed that 3M, and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc., were aware that the CAEv2 was too short for correct insertion into users’ ears and that the plugs could loosen slightly and then didn’t perform well for some individuals. It’s also alleged that this design error was known to 3M but wasn’t disclosed to the Department of Defense.
Harm to Personnel
If the claims about 3M are correct, thousands of servicemen could have used fault prone plugs which didn’t defend them as the equipment was intended to. Based on the alleged design error, the plugs could come loose while in the ear unbeknownst to the soldier letting damaging sounds to find their way into the ear. Harmful noise levels can have serious and lasting effects including partial or total hearing loss, or tinnitus, a ringing in the ears. Hearing loss is one of the most frequent issues suffered by active duty and former servicemen. Tinnitus, which can be debilitating, is just as prevalent. According to a research scientist with the VA Portland Healthcare System, last year there were in excess of