Oceanside High School’s artificial-turf field passed a recent test “easily,” according to a school official — even though the company that manufactured it is facing a class-action lawsuit claiming that the fibers in the turf were defective.
The Montreal-based FieldTurf sold potentially defective artificial-turf fields to almost 30 public school districts in Nassau County between 2006 and 2012, including Oceanside — the first school district to receive one, in September 2006, according to a class-action lawsuit that was filed under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The only Long Island entity to join the suit was the Levittown School District.
A U.S. District Court judge ruled on Aug. 30 that the Levittown district could proceed with its claims against the company, denying FieldTurf’s motion to dismiss. As a result, both high schools are seeking to have their fields replaced for free, and the judge added that other districts could proceed with their claims against the company.
Court papers submitted in the suit state that the fields were made of artificial grass fibers called Duraspine, which were found to deteriorate prematurely or break down at an accelerated pace and not perform as promised. While the fibers were supposed to last up to 15 years, the grass quickly faded, flattened or tore out in dozens of cases, causing shedding and bald spots. Some fields failed industry tests that measure strength and cushioning against falls, according to published reports and court documents.
FieldTurf officials acknowledged that the fibers were defective when the company sued its Duraspine supplier in 2011 and won a reported $30 million judgment.
In a response posted on its website, FieldTurf CEO Eric Daliere said that the company never sought to deceive or mislead its customers. “In the fall of 2009, we became aware that FieldTurf was starting to receive more warranty claims related to field and fiber performance than in the past,” he said. “We came to understand that the Duraspine fiber was prone to premature fiber breakdown in certain high [ultraviolet] conditions.”
He apologized to customers, adding, “We never hid from this problem.”
He further told the Herald, "We are proud of our track record of taking care of our customers ... Our fields on Long Island have performed well, and many are still in use past their 8-year warranty, including fields mentioned by the Herald – Oceanside High School (12 years), Wantagh High School (10 years), Seaford High School (9 years) and Island Trees High School (8 years)."
FieldTurf marketed its Duraspine turf as “durable, wear-resistant and cheaper in the long run because of its greater life expectancy.” According to court papers, FieldTurf officials knew early on that they were falsely representing the product.
“With sweeping, deceptive, and misleading statements, FieldTurf lured municipalities, school districts, universities and athletic organizations into contracting for purchase and installation of Duraspine Turf, installations which were often financed with scarce taxpayer dollars,” court papers read.
Nonetheless, Levittown’s dilemma “wouldn’t change anything, since our field passed by a nice margin,” said Christopher Van Cott, assistant superintendent of business for Oceanside schools.
On Sept. 17, OHS’s turf field scored an average of 168.8 G’s on Amityville-based Landtek Group’s G-Max Test Report, which is under the required 200. Additionally, all 10 locations tested across the field performed positively, according to the report by the same company that installed the field back in 2006, along with 85 percent of the previously mentioned cases on Long Island.
Van Cott added that the Oceanside school board did hear concerns from residents over the abundance of “black crumble” — the pellets that fill the field — which appeared seemingly “unsafe” and also cosmetically unappealing. However, according to the test, the field checks out. Van Cott added that it is serviced four times per year — which involves sweeping up the black crumbs — and tested once each year.
At the Sept. 26 board meeting, Van Cott recommended raising necessary funds to replace the field entirely during the next school budget, instead of the following one, 2020-21, because the field’s lifespan — 12 to 14 years — will expire next year, and there tend to be “delays” in the state review process.
“I don’t want to wait another year,” Van Cott said.
Eden Laikin contributed to this story.