3M Company, the well-known Minnesota-based manufacturer recently settled with the US military over claims that 3M sold the government specially designed combat earplugs for troops on the front lines that were known to be faulty. 3M created two versions of these earplugs, the single-ended version, and the dual-ended version, and allegedly sold the dual-ended version to the government without disclosing any of the product’s defects. These defective earplugs were called the Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, part of the company’s Military Combat Safety Gear line, and until they were discontinued, they were standard issue equipment materials for several branches of the armed services.
The Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs were designed to protect the hearing of the wearer using two primary functions; when inserted one way the wearer would be able to hear sounds at reasonable volumes, such as speech, and when inserted the opposite direction the wearer would get better noise protection from sounds such as gunfire or explosions. While this design seemed promising, it was found that the earplugs did not reach deep enough into the ear due to the stem being too short. This flaw would cause the earplug to come loose and allowed destructive sounds to enter the ear canal, potentially damaging the wearer’s hearing. Due to this defect, claims of tinnitus and hearing loss among US troops and veterans have skyrocketed.