Defective 3M 8500 Comfort Masks

Did you ever rely on this mask to protect your lungs?

                                                                                                  

It’s a 3M 8500 Comfort Mask, also commonly known as a “bra-cup” disposable dust mask.  Beginning in the 1960's, it was manufactured and distributed by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M) in huge quantities.  From the 1960's through the 1980's, millions of American workers wore this mask to protect their lungs from the inhalation of toxic or cancer-causing dusts, but all along 3M knew that it should never be used for that purpose.  The mask never obtained government approval for use against any type of dust that could be harmful because it leaked in so many ways, yet 3M never placed a warning on the mask regarding its limitations until 1990.

Unlike all other industrial respiratory safety products, the 3M 8500 Comfort Mask never obtained any certification or approval from the Federal government.  3M unequivocally admits that the 3M 8500 Comfort Mask was not designed to protect the user against exposure to dust containing asbestos or silica, and that it was aware of this limitation from at least the 1960's.  But, 3M knew that its mask was being used exactly for that purpose by workers throughout the United States.  In fact, misuse of the 3M 8500 in hazardous working environments in the United States became so prevalent that its misuse was a foreseeable use to 3M.

In 1969 and 1970, 3M employee John E. Cain made field trips to Oregon and Illinois and observed workers applying asbestos insulation products while wearing the 3M 8500 Comfort Mask.  Mr. Cain reported these observations to his supervisors at 3M, but he did nothing in the field to discourage this unsafe practice.

 

In November, 1968, 3M employee Robert J. Barghini met with Duncan Holaday, who had been the Deputy Chief of the United States Public Health Service.  Mr. Barghini reported to his supervisors at 3M that Holaday’s “major concern with the 3M mask is misuse.” 

 

On July 29, 1970, 3M employees John E. Cain and H. C. McElroy met with Ed Hyatt of the University of California Scientific Laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  According to Mr. McElroy, Ed Hyatt was “one of the most knowledgeable and influencial (sic) individuals in the respiratory environmental field.” Mr. McElroy reported to his supervisors at 3M as follows:

 

Ed Hyatt did make a few points worthy of mention.  First, he is opposed to the abuse of the #8500 mask.

According to Ed, it is being worn in many areas where it should be prohibited due to the inadequate protection

it affords the workers.  He is desirous of 3M providing a chart or schedule indicating where the #8500 should

and should not be worn.

 

On November 16, 1970, 3M employee J. E. Barnard met with Francis Jung of the Industrial Hygiene Department of the State of Tennessee.  Mr. Barnard wrote to his supervisors at 3M that:

 

[t]he State of Tennessee has taken a rather strong stand on the use of our #8500.  To their mind this product

is being abused, and we have had previous feedback through our brand sales offices of the Industrial Hygiene Department ordering discontinuance of the usage of it in paint spray operations.

 

On January 19, 1972, Curtis A. Thorpe, Market Supervisor for 3M’s Occupational Protection Products Division, met in Washington, D.C. with Ray McClure, Chief of the Office of Compliance Evaluation of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  Mr. Thorpe wrote to his supervisors at 3M that McClure stated that:

 

1.  The #8500 is more often misused than not.  The primary uses he observed in the field are for paint

      vapors and silica containing dust.

2.  If the #8500 is available along side other respirators in a plant, it is impossible, administratively,

     to limit the #8500 to non-toxic situations.

 

In summary, by 1972 3M knew: (a) that the expected users of its 8500 Comfort Mask lacked both the knowledge and appreciation of the limitations of the mask and its latent dangers and (b) that it was “impossible,” according to the Chief of OSHA’s Office of Compliance Evaluation, to limit the use of the mask to non-toxic situations.  Such information came to 3M’s knowledge from the direct observations of its employees in the field and also from complaints lodged with 3M from some of the highest ranking state and Federal officials charged with the protection of worker health and safety.  But 3M failed to provide a warning on the mask of the product’s limitations.

 

On August 17, 1977, 3M employees Robert J. Barghini and C. R. Toney met with Mike Rodia, the chief industrial hygienist for the State of Oregon.  After their meeting with Mr. Rodia, Messrs. Barghini and Toney jointly wrote to their superiors at 3M as follows:

 

He [Rodia] felt and still feels that 3M has been unethical in their advertising and selling the 8500 respirator

and the 8710 respirator in the State of Oregon.  His contention is that these respirators are being misused

and 3M has not provided the proper literature to prevent the misuse of these respirators....Mr. Rodia repeated

time after time again his dissatisfaction with the “misuse” of the 8500 and 8710 respirators.  He further stated

that he would not allow or accept a 3M respirator (disposable) in the State of Oregon until the 8500 and 8710

misuse was eliminated.  Mr. Rodia feels that the misuse of the 8500 and 8710 respirators is a 3M problem. 

He refuses to accept the responsibility from a compliance standpoint and has stated 3 or 4 times during the

meeting that the people using our respirator were “ignorant.”  They had to be given enough information so

they would know what not to use the respirator for....

 

Mr. Rodia stated if this misuse of the 3M product respirators did not cease by 3M changing their product

literature both on the box and in the individual packaging, he would forbid the sale of 3M respirators in the

State of Oregon.

 

Thirteen years later, in 1990, 3M finally accepted Mr. Rodia’s advice and started placing a bright red warning sticker on the front of every 8500 Comfort Mask.  The sticker read as follows:

 

WARNING.  This mask will not protect your lungs.  Misuse may result in sickness or death. 

For proper use, see supervisor, box, or call 3M at 1-800-247-3941.

 

According to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Dugas v. 3M Company on March 29, 2016:

 

3M's 8500 mask was designed to be a form of respiratory protection. (See...1967 advertisement which markets

the 3M 8500 "filter mask" with the slogan, "Protect workers' lungs"). As a product designed to provide protection,

it was incumbent upon 3M to warn purchasers of the 8500 dust mask's limits in order to reasonably protect against

the "generalized and foreseeable risk of harm[]" the use of the 8500 mask invites.

 

If you relied on the 3M 8500 Comfort Mask prior to 1990 and it failed to protect you, 3M ought to be held liable in damages due to the defective design of its dust mask, specifically its lack of adequate warnings and instructions.

© 2013-2020 by Steven H. Wodka.  All Rights Reserved.       

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