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3M agrees to pay $6 billion after US military said its earplugs caused hearing loss

3M has agreed to pay $6 billion after the US military said its earplugs caused hearing loss. (Photo by Michael Siluk/Universal Images/Education Images/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CNN) — 3M has agreed to pay $6 billion to resolve roughly 300,000 lawsuits alleging that the manufacturing company supplied faulty combat earplugs to the military that resulted in significant injuries, such as hearing loss.

In a release, 3M said the agreement is “not an admission of liability” and that the payout will come over several years and encompass $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in stock.

“The products at issue in this litigation are safe and effective when used properly. 3M is prepared to continue to defend itself in the litigation if certain agreed terms of the settlement agreement are not fulfilled,” the company said.

The earplugs were used by the US military in training and combat from 2003 to 2015. Veterans accused 3M of selling defective earplugs that caused hearing loss and tinnitus, according to a 2021 Wall Street Journal report.

The earplugs were made by Aearo Technologies, a company 3M bought in 2008. Aearo tried filing for bankruptcy last year as a way to fund its liabilities and limit exposure. However, that was dismissed by a judge this summer because the judge said that “allowing an otherwise financially healthy debtor with no impending solvency issues to remain in bankruptcy … exceeds the boundaries of the court’s limited jurisdiction.”

3M (3M) said the agreement will result in an approximately $4.2 billion pre-tax charge for the third quarter of 2023. Shares closed 5% higher on Monday because investors were expecting the settlement to be significantly higher, the Journal reported.

This marks 3M’s second significant lawsuit settlement this summer. In June, the manufacturer said it would pay up to $10.3 billion over 13 years to fund public water suppliers in the United States that have detected its toxic “forever chemicals” in their water supplies.

Polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as “forever chemicals,” have been found in hundreds of household items, including makeup and carpeting, and are used to make coatings that repel water, grease, and oil.

The settlement comes after 3M faced thousands of lawsuits that allege 3M knew PFAS caused cancer, developmental defects and other health problems, and that the chemicals contaminated US drinking water systems.

Last year, 3M said it would stop producing the controversial chemicals by the end of 2025.