3M gets a legal slap on the wrist – but still makes millions

If this report doesn’t infuriate you, it should!

A contractor has agreed to pay $9.1 million to the U.S. government for selling defective earplugs issued to thousands of servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2015.

Known as “selective attenuation earplugs,” 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs would “loosen in the wearers ear, imperceptibly to the wearer and even trained audiologists visually observing a wearer, thereby permitting damaging sounds to enter the ear canal by traveling around outside of the earplug,” according to the whistleblower lawsuit complaint, which was settled Thursday.

. . .

The earplugs were originally manufactured by Aearo Technologies, which was acquired by 3M in 2008. Aearo was aware of the plug’s defects as early as 2000, many years before it and 3M became the exclusive provider of selective attenuation earplugs to the military, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint alleged that 3M and Aearo Technologies manipulated test results to make it appear that the plugs met government standards.

“In addition to damages directly associated with the contractual cost of the earplugs,” the complaint stated, “The United States has been damaged by the large and ongoing medical costs associated with treating veterans who likely suffered hearing damage and impairment as a result of the defective earplugs.”

Tinnitus and hearing loss are the VA’s two most prevalent service-related disabilities, with 1,610,911 and 1,084,069 cases annually, according to the 2016 Annual Benefits Report issued by the Veterans Benefits Administration.

There’s more at the link.

So 3M will pay a fine of $9.1 million . . . but the US taxpayer remains on the hook for literally millions of service personnel with hearing that was damaged, at least partially as a result of these defective devices.  The medical costs of treating that, both initial and ongoing, and concomitant disability allowances, are likely to run into at least the hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars.

I suggest the VA determine how many of those cases are due, at least in part, to 3M’s defective hearing protection, and then sue 3M to pay the full treatment and disability allowance costs for every single one of them.  Wouldn’t that be poetic justice, after they made so much profit on the deal?



  1. Wait…
    Some people were actually issued earplugs?
    (We had to buy ours. Obviously. There were lots of things the military bought that never quite made it to the infantry. We'd use it, which would mean damage and replacement costs… Heck, we weren't issued desert boots at 29 Palms until 1997.)

  2. So I am better protected from the cheap throw-aways at Wallyworld than our military?

    Will wonders never cease.

    Reminds me of the Son Tay Raiders having to buy bolt-cutters with their own money from Sears, I believe, because all of the gov-issue bolt cutters sucked rocks. Or the Bradley gunners buying their own wrenches to work on the guns.

    Something to be said for COTS equipment.

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