Parks System Joins Class Action Lawsuit Alleging Synthetic Turf Manufacturer Sold Defective Fields

Parks System Joins Class Action Lawsuit Alleging Synthetic Turf Manufacturer Sold Defective Fields

MCPS hasn't signed on to suit to recoup cost of high school fields

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The field at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville

FILE PHOTO BY JACOB BOGAGE

Updated 5:15 p.m. Thursday: The Montgomery County Parks system is joining a class action lawsuit against the makers of the artificial turf fields that are installed in several locations in the county, including Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.

As yet, Montgomery County Public Schools hasn’t jumped onboard.

Artificial turf fields are at seven public schools in Montgomery County: Blair, Richard Montgomery High, Walter Johnson High, Gaithersburg High, Paint Branch High, Thomas S. Wootton High and Somerset Elementary. MCPS owns all of the fields except the one at Blair, which is maintained by the parks system.

In a statement, Director of Parks Mike Riley said the parks system is joining the lawsuit because the company, FieldTurf, violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act by misrepresenting the reliability, performance and cost effectiveness of its fields. The Canada-based company also “knowingly provided turf fields which contained defects in materials that were never disclosed … and, otherwise, asserted that the fields were in merchantable condition and fit for their intended purpose, in breach of its express and implied warranties.”

School board President Michael Durso said he and his colleagues haven’t officially discussed joining the class action lawsuit, but would be monitoring developments in the case.

“It certainly is interesting, but as to what’s going to happen further down the road or what our role may or may not be, I’m just not sure,” Durso said Wednesday.

Last year, after finding Blair’s turf field had become heavily worn, the parks system had to replace the playing surface with one that featured organic infill and a shock absorption pad. Riley informed County Council member Marc Elrich that the field had still been under warranty at the time of the $725,000 replacement project.

MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said the school system checks the condition of its fields on an ongoing basis.

“We will continue to evaluate all options with regards to our fields,” he wrote in an email Tuesday.

The parks department will become a defendant in a federal lawsuit that was opened in June to consolidate five different cases against FieldTurf. The plaintiffs, governments and school districts across the country, are alleging the company knowingly sold defective synthetic turf from 2005 to at least 2012. A federal order states the allegedly defective turf was installed in more than 1,400 locations.

Attorneys representing FieldTurf in the case could not immediately be reached for comment.

A FieldTurf spokesperson wrote in a prepared statement that Blair's synthetic field was installed in 2009 and lasted for its full, eight-year warranty term. However, the spokesperson, Darren Gill, acknowledged the company had experienced problems with Duraspine, grass fibers used in the synthetic fields.

In 2011, FieldTurf sued the Chinese company, TenCate, that made the grass fibers for many of its Duraspine fields because FieldTurf found the fibers withered away under ultraviolet light.

“Since we first became aware of the issue with Duraspine, we have tried to be forthcoming with our customers and we have not hid from this problem.  Additionally, it is important to note that the issue with Duraspine has not impacted safety – only how a field looks as it wears – and has been limited to high-UV environments. We are committed to honoring our warranties and working with our customers to address any issues if they arise,” Gill wrote in the prepared statement.

Montgomery Parks’ decision to enter the lawsuit was first reported by Forbes.

Members of local civic groups have been vocal in their concerns about the safety of synthetic turf fields in Montgomery County parks and schools. Danila Sheveiko, a member of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, said worn fields don’t adequately cushion athletes when they fall, increasing the risk of concussion and other injuries.

Sheveiko said federation members question why the county can’t stick with grass playing surfaces.

“Natural grass is healthier and more cost-effective,” he said.

The MCPS website states that artificial fields have a wide range of benefits, such as needing less maintenance, allowing safer year-round use and offering more equity between schools.

But federation members spoke up in 2016 after discovering that the synthetic field at Richard Montgomery had failed a safety test. Another firm that conducted two subsequent tests at the field found that it passed both times. A school system spokeswoman at the time said the field had been repaired after the first test found safety concerns.

The MCPS spokeswoman said FieldTurf pays consulting firms to conduct GMAX tests, which evaluate a playing surface’s ability to absorb impact.

MCPS posts GMAX test results online, along with periodic maintenance reports.

This article was updated to add a comment from a FieldTurf spokesperson.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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