3M is an enormous multinational conglomerate headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota. The company is thoroughly diversified but is known most for manufacturing a wide range of products, including adhesives, abrasives, dental and orthodontic products, electronic equipment, software, and personal protective equipment. The company is presently suffering through the consequences of poorly designing certain personal protective equipment issued to the United States’ Armed Forces.
From 2003 through 2015, 3M produced protective earplugs for the United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The earplugs were marketed as being effective at blocking dangerously loud sound, such as the sound of small arms and heavy weaponry fire, while still permitting users to effectively communicate verbally and hear approaching enemy combatants unimpeded.
The earplugs did not live up to the marketing. Due to a design flaw, the earplugs would loosen after insertion breaking the seal over the ear canal, allowing dangerous sound to penetrate and damage the inner ear. More astounding are the allegations that 3M knew about the defect as early as 2003, yet refused to recall, or even redesign the product until 2015. By 2006, several years after the defect was allegedly known, 3M’s contract with the United States government supplied an estimated 750,000 pairs of earplugs to the armed services on an annual basis.