Turf War: Lawsuits claim defective fields

Company marketed turf as most durable and wear-resistant


The new artificial-turf fields made of Duraspine fibers were meant to last up to 15 years and significantly reduce the cost of field maintenance — virtually paying for themselves after just a few years, according to their marketing campaigns.

But in dozens of cases, the grass quickly faded, flattened or tore out entirely, causing shedding and bald spots. And some artificial-turf fields on which student-athletes play football, soccer or lacrosse have failed industry tests that measure strength and cushioning against falls, according to published reports and court documents. In some cases, the fields raised safety concerns that forced districts to shell out more public money to repair or replace them.

Some school districts in Nassau County, including Wantagh and Seaford, have not replaced their fields, though they are showing signs of wear. Google Earth images indicate that bald patches have appeared after just four or five years of use.

The company behind this artificial turf, which was sold to nearly 30 school districts and mu-nicipalities in Nassau County, is FieldTurf, headquartered in Montreal. The local installer in at least 85 percent of the cases on Long Island was the Amityville-based Landtek Group.

Since 2014, FieldTurf has been sued by dozens of municipalities across the country, including in a class action suit filed last year in Newark, N.J., under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The only Long Island entity to join the suit so far is the Levittown School District. On Aug. 30, a federal judge dismissed FieldTurf’s motion to dismiss the suit, allowing Levittown and other school districts’ claims against the company to proceed.

According to court papers submitted in the class-action suit, the fields until 2011 were made of artificial grass fibers called Duraspine, which were found to prematurely deteriorate or break down at an accelerated pace — and not perform as promised.

In 2011, FieldTurf sued its Duraspine fiber supplier and won a reported $30 million judgment for the defective product.

Levittown district officials have vowed to use capital reserve funds to replace the turf fields at both high schools — Division Avenue and MacArthur — and hope to recoup the money from the suit.

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.”

Wantagh School District

The Wantagh School District was on an austerity budget, the result of two failed budget votes, in June 2008, when artificial turf was installed on the Wantagh High School football field. Today, the turf is spotted with bald patches.

But district Superintendent John McNamara said last month that the field has served the district well for 10 years, exceeding the eight-year warranty term. “We have not observed any excessive or abnormal wear,” McNamara said. “As always, safety plays an important role in the maintenance of all school facilities. Our facilities department performs regular maintenance and routine testing of the field to ensure a safe playing surface. To our knowledge, there have been no field-related injuries.”

Wantagh officials have since shared with the Herald the results of recent “G-max” tests, which evaluate a playing surface’s ability to absorb impact and, in turn, ensure optimal performance and safety. The tests, conducted between 2014 and 2017, indicate that the high school field is performing properly. However, the testing was done by Landtek, which installed the turf in 2008 — not by an independent third party, as industry experts recommend.

Neither McNamara nor Landtek returned further calls requesting comment about the tests.

Seaford School District

Seaford’s football field was also made by FieldTurf, with Duraspine. It was installed at the high school in August 2009, and bald patches now dot that field as well.

At a Board of Education meeting in November 2008, the district’s athletic director, Tim Condon, pitched an artificial-turf field. He spoke about his visits to several schools to see their turf fields, showed charts and photos, and detailed various grades of turf he had learned about in meetings with other athletic directors.

The board approved the purchase in February 2009. After three trustees attempted unsuccessfully to table the motion, the board voted 4-1 to award the bid to Landtek.

According to Superintendent Dr. Adele Pecora, the complete project — which involved the track as well as the football field — cost the district $1.5 million.

On July 24, Pecora said in a statement, “For the past nine years, the Seaford School District has not encountered any significant issues with regard to its turf field.” Three days later, the field was serviced and repaired, Pecora said last week.

FieldTurf company background

FieldTurf marketed its new 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 the “falsity of its representations about Duraspine, but continued to make false representations to customers.”

“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.

Court papers also state that from 2005 to 2012, FieldTurf sold and installed 1,450 Duraspine turf fields in nearly every state, earning at least $570 million in revenue, and that a “full-blown crisis” of “massive field failures” came to light in 2009. Yet FieldTurf never changed its sales pitch before discontinuing sales of Duraspine Turf in or around 2012.

Erik Hawkins contributed to this story.

Next week: Read about other schools and parks throughout Nassau County that had defective Duraspine fields installed.