Defective Materials in Turf Field Could be Grounds for Replacement

The turf field at Charlestown High School on Medford Street has been described as the “heart” of the Town, but that “heart” has been defective from the get-go, and City officials are now looking at situations in other parts of the country where cities have won settlements to replace these defective fields.

The turf field has been the source of great discussion for several months as the wear and tear on the 11-year-old field has begun to reach critical mass. Last month, the Parks Department did repairs to the field to “tie it over” until it can be replaced in the Capital Budget – which would be years away.

Many believe the well-used field for a Town that is once-again brimming with children and youth sports of all types cannot wait several years.

If experiences with field replacement by the installer, FieldTurf, in other areas are any indication, there might not be such a long and costly wait for relief.

A source outside of the Town, but intimately connected to the situation in Charlestown, contacted the Patriot-Bridge last week with details about the defective materials used in the Charlestown field when it was installed in 2007. That defective material is known as Duraspine and is the fibers used to imitate grass. An outside supplier made the product for FieldTurf, and it was learned to be defective a few years ago. Now FieldTurf makes its own fiber.

In other locales, fields with the same problem have been replaced at no cost or at a discount, particularly when the warranty was still in place.

“Area schools, towns and public agencies have spent millions of dollars installing synthetic turf fields in recent years,” said the source, who requested anonymity. “A number of important national class-action lawsuits have just been launched against the main supplier of synthetic turf fields in Massachusetts…The product installed in Charlestown is at the heart of at least 15 different fraud lawsuits around the country. The defective Charlestown turf should have been replaced under warranty and at no cost to the taxpayer – like well over a hundred of these defective fields have been throughout the country. The company is trying to ‘run out the clock’ on the warranties and leave taxpayers on the hook for the pricey replacement.”

Unfortunately for the Town’s turf field, it’s warranty ran out in 2015, but City officials this week said they had no idea that the materials used were defective.

The heart of the problem is that the outside supplier provided the FieldTurf company with Duraspine materials. At some point around 2009 or 2010, and that date is disputed, the company learned their supplier had used the defective Duraspine materials. That led to a settlement between the supplier and FieldTurf, and FieldTurf has replaced several defective fields across the country because of it.

“Do the responsible public officials even realize they have been completely defrauded; do they know they are possibly plaintiffs in one of the many class-action lawsuits filed against the company?” said the source.

City officials this week said they did not know about the defective materials, and they have forwarded the information to the City Legal Department to look at what can potentially be done for Charlestown and the other five effected fields across the City.

“We were not aware of the litigation between different communities and FieldTurf USA,” said Ryan Woods of the Parks Department, noting that he has forwarded the information to the City’s Legal Department.

He said the same company installed fields at five different Boston parks since 2007. The installation in Charlestown cost approximately $1 million.

All of the above considered, FieldTurf told the Patriot-Bridge that the highly publicized problems in other locales are likely exaggerated.

“We are committed to honoring our warranties and working with our customers to address any issues if they arise,” read a statement from FieldTurf. “It’s important to note that the Charlestown High field was installed in 2007 and has lasted well beyond its standard 8-year warranty term. Since we first became aware of the issue with Duraspine, we have been responsive to our customers experiencing issues with their fields. The Duraspine issue has not impacted safety – only how a field looks as it wears – and has been limited to high-UV environments. Worldwide, less than 2 percent of Duraspine fields have been replaced under warranty because of issues with the Duraspine fiber. FieldTurf discontinued the sale of Duraspine in 2010 and transitioned fully to its own self-produced fibers in 2011 – and we have introduced many successful fibers since then.”

Reed Catlin of the Charlestown Lacrosse and Learning Center has been closely monitoring the field for some time, and has been drawing particular attention to its problems recently. He said while the field has done well, maybe the defective product led to it breaking down faster than it should have – especially since no one knew that the materials were defective until now.

In the springtime, he estimates that more than 200 young people use the field every night for sports activities between lacrosse, soccer, and softball. That number doesn’t include the use by the high school and adult leagues though, so there is likely much more use than that.

“In the grand scheme to things, ours is good, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t had issues,” he said. “Even if it performed admirably, there still were defective materials used, and maybe those materials led to it breaking down sooner than it should have, even it if was beyond the eight-year warranty…It’s a big capital expense that won’t be able to be done for many years. If they had a large windfall of cash because of some settlement, it would get us re-turfed quicker and that would be nice.”

Several media reports, as well as the source that contacted the Patriot-Bridge, have indicated that there are class-action lawsuits in the works. However, FieldTurf said those reports are misleading and should be taken with careful measure.

“There continue to be media reports of a ‘class action’ lawsuit against FieldTurf, but this is misleading, as the Courts have not yet approved any class action against FieldTurf, and they have not yet even decided whether most of the claims are valid,” read the statement. “Importantly, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission have both closed investigations into FieldTurf without finding any wrongdoing.”

That suit was filed in March 2017.

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