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Service members and veterans may mistakenly believe 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs were recalled after they were found to be defective. However, the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs linked to damaged hearing and tinnitus in thousands of service members were not recalled; they were only discontinued.
Thousands of service members and veterans who served between 2003 and 2015 are filing lawsuits against 3M. They allege that 3M and its predecessor Aearo Technologies knew the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs were too short to provide the protection they claimed and knew the plugs could loosen while in the ears, but lied about it. And more service members and veterans with hearing loss and tinnitus are filing lawsuits every day—because they are living with debilitating hearing loss and tinnitus after using earplugs that did not perform as claimed.
3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs were sold to the U.S. Military, which distributed them to service members, between 2003 and 2015. However, when evidence emerged showing that even when used as directed, the earplugs could loosen and were not protecting users’ hearing as claimed, the U.S. Government successfully sued 3M. 3M stopped making (discontinued) the Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs but did not recall those already sold.
Discontinuing a product is just that—a company stops making and selling the product. But the previously sold and distributed units are still out in the world—perhaps (or even probably) still being used or sold.
A product recall, by contrast, pulls the product back from distributors and retailers, and may also allow consumers to send products back to the company. As defined by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a recall is “a method of removing or correcting products that are in violation of laws administered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Recall is a voluntary action that takes place because manufacturers and distributors carry out their responsibility to protect the public health and well-being from products that present a risk of injury or gross deception or are otherwise defective.” Product recalls are usually voluntary, although the FDA sometimes mandates a recall.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Research and Development, “hearing problems—including tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing, or other type of noise that originates in the head—are by far the most prevalent service-connected disability among American Veterans.” And those hearing problems may be tied to or exacerbate anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD among our service members and veterans.
Protecting service members’ hearing was the U.S. Government’s goal and intent when it purchased the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs. However, since the earplugs were defective, those men and women who received them were not protected. And the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs were never recalled; they were simply discontinued.
Alamgir, H., et al. (2016, April 12). The impact of hearing impairment and noise-induced hearing injury on quality of life in the active-duty military population: challenges to the study of this issue. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4830069/
Hearing Health Foundation. (nd). Veteran Statistics. Retrieved from https://hearinghealthfoundation.org/veterans
McIlwain, S, K. Gates, and D. Ciliax. (2008, December). Heritage of Army Audiology and the Road Ahead: The Army Hearing Program. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2636536/
Morris, Will. (2018, July 30). Contractor settles for $9.1 million after providing defective earplugs for servicemembers. Retrieved from https://www.stripes.com/news/contractor-settles-for-9-1-million-after-providing-defective-earplugs-for-servicemembers-1.540137
National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011, July 22). Severe hearing impairment among military veterans–United States, 2010. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21775950/
Rempfer, K. (2019, February 14). Hundreds of vets are suing over these defective combat earplugs. Retrieved from https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2019/02/14/hundreds-of-vets-are-suing-over-these-defective-combat-earplugs/
U.S. Department of Justice. (2018, July 26). 3M Company Agrees to Pay $9.1 Million to Resolve Allegations That it Supplied the United States With Defective Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/3m-company-agrees-pay-91-million-resolve-allegations-it-supplied-united-states-defective-dual
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Research and Development. (2016, September). Hearing Loss. Retrieved from https://www.research.va.gov/topics/hearing.cfm
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019, April 25). Recalls, Corrections and Removals (Devices). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/postmarket-requirements-devices/recalls-corrections-and-removals-devices