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Why 200K+ Service Members And Veterans Are Suing 3M

CNBC, 22 Mar 2023
Nathan Frei is one of more than 200,000 military servicemembers and veterans suing 3M claiming its Combat Arms CAEv2 earplugs failed to protect him from loud noises causing hearing loss and tinnitus.

Plaintiffs claim 3M earplugs were “defective” and failed to protect against hearing loss and tinnitus.

“We used [the earplugs] every time that we were around loud noises,” Frei, who lives in Seattle, told CNBC. “And I relied on that hearing protection during that time.”

From 2003 to 2015, Aearo Technologies and its parent company, 3M, manufactured and supplied the U.S. military with the Combat Arms CAEv2 earplugs. The plugs were standard issue for soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq and were designed to protect service members’ hearing in military training and during combat.

Each earplug had two ends: The green end was designed to block out all sound. The yellow end, signaling “whisper mode,” purported to block out loud sound — but allowed the user to hear quieter noises, like conversations.

I don’t look like somebody who probably should have as much hearing loss as I do at my age.

“We were told that by wearing ‘whisper mode’ that we could still protect our hearing,” said Frei, who claims he first noticed issues with his hearing in 2013.

“I was hearing ringing,” Frei recalled. “At first, I thought it was a TV that was on. And so I searched and scoured the house looking for where the noise was coming from before I realized that it was just in my head.”

As the years passed, the 35-year-old said, his hearing issues got worse. Department of Veterans Affairs records shared by Frei with CNBC show he was later diagnosed with tinnitus.

“It’s constant,” he said. “It’s a loud ringing in my ears — very similar to just like a buzz noise.”

He said the ringing is so disruptive it occasionally keeps him awake.

“I don’t look like somebody who probably should have as much hearing loss as I do at my age,” he said.

Eric Rucker, an attorney for 3M, told CNBC the company has great respect for the men and women in the military and that their safety has always been a priority. Read the full story here:

Senior Producer: Chris DiLella
Reporter: Seema Mody
Editors: Diana Costantino, Nick Stantzos
Animations: Michael Schwartz

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Why 200K+ Service Members And Veterans Are Suing 3M
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