HIGHLAND PARK, NJ—Middlesex County taxpayers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for artificial athletic fields made by FieldTurf, a company that knew they were faulty and defective, according to an investigative report by NJ.com.
According to a series of articles by Christopher Baxter and Matthew Stanmyre, the company knew for years that the fields they were selling were defective and deteriorating years ahead of when promised, yet continued to go ahead with the sales campaign.
FieldTurf sold the faulty product, known as Duraspine, to 1,428 government entities, including cities, towns, school districts, and public universities across the U.S between 2005 and 2012, with 164 of those customers in New Jersey.
Artificial turfs have been marketed as less costly than natural fields because of money would not have to be spent to purchase sod, or to water, mow, seed, fertilize, re-sod and maintain the field.
And unlike natural turf, artificial fields would also not be rendered unusable after periods of rain or during the several weeks when grass is re-growing.
Sales of the Duraspine fields began in earnest in 2005, with promises of a lifetime of at least ten years. But emails uncovered by NJ.com suggest that FieldTurf started seeing signs of deterioration in some of the fields as early as 2007.
As many of the fields have aged, they deteriorated much faster than what the company promises, with swathes of green fibers, meant to resemble grass, broken away, revealing large black splotches.
In much of the field, the fibers are matted or broken. Many fields, once lush and green, are now a darker grey-green.
The blackness comes from thousands of little black beads, known as crumb rubber, which are packed into the field.
In total, FieldTurf brought in $570 million from taxpayers during this seven-year period, from 2005 to 2012 when the product was discontinued.
Each of the fields cost between and $300,000 and $500,000 to install, the report found.
Public records show that the company sold artificial fields to East Brunswick, Highland Park, Monroe Township, North Brunswick, Woodbridge. and Rutgers University.
The report found that executives considered deleting emails that could have been damaging in a lawsuit. NJ.com also found that customers who reported problems were given the runaround with their warranty claims and were told that the deterioration was normal.
In East Brunswick, six artificial fields were installed, with three of them at the town's High School. Another field was installed at Heavenly Farms Park, one at Lakeview Day Camp and one at Field Sports Complex.
In Highland Park, an artificial turf was installed at its high school in September 2008. Another artificial turf was installed in Monroe Township High School in August 2008.
Two fields installed in North Brunswick, one at the Sabellea Park and one at the 25 Acre County Park.
In 2009, Rutgers University had a 108,104 square foot field installed at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway.
Woodbridge High School had a 92,671 square foot artificial field installed in 2007. Joe Ward, Athletic Director at Woodbridge High School, told NJ.com he was "very happy" with Duraspine.
“We’re in the process of installing two new FieldTurf fields,” Ward added. “The community loves it. The student-athletes at my school love it. We’re looking forward to having two.”
But Rich McGlynn, a physical education teacher at Highland Park High School, was less satisfied with the product.
"Turf started to come up and it would be on your shoes just within one year, after being put it," McGlynn told NJ.com. "If you were outside in the regular field we have to stomp our feet before we go in or else there's turf and all the green fibers laying in the gym, or in the locker room."
McGlynn added that just two years after construction, he noticed fibers on the field that were cracked, split, frayed and mated.
Highland Park's field, finished in 2008, was made possible by a $1.5 million grant from Middlesex County, which means taxpayers from all 25 towns in the county chipped in for the purchase.
As we reported previously, New Brunswick has a $115,000 contract with FieldTurf for an artificial field at the New Brunswick High School, where construction started in the summer 2015. The turf was part of a $1 million renovation at the Joyce Kilmer sports complex, a price which is being split by the city government and school district.
New Brunswick's City Council made a point of clarifying that their new field does not consist of the Duraspine product.
"Yes we did use that company but no we didn't use that product," said City Council President Kevin Egan.
"Our field of course was approved in 2015 and this Duraspine product that apparently is failing in many locations hasn't been available for purchase for five years now," added New Brunswick's Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin III.
Today, according to the report, one out of five outdoor Duraspine fields in the U.S has been replaced under FieldTurf's eight-year warranty policy.
Officials from FieldTurf, which is now a division of the French flooring company Tarkett, disputed allegations that knowingly defective products were sold on a mass scale.
The notion that the company misled consumers was "completely false," officials contended in a statement, and that the problem has not affected a "significant majority" of Duraspine consumers.
In a prepared statement, FieldTurf officials said the company has not replaced any Duraspine fields in New Jersey as a result of the premature deterioration seen elsewhere in the U.S.
And, the officials said, many of the fields had outlasted their eight-year warranties and resulted in satisfied and repeat customers.
“To the best of our knowledge, 100% of our installed Duraspine fields in New Jersey have made it through their warranty period and will be used into their ninth year and beyond,” FieldTurf officials told NJ.com.
FieldTurf officials also highlighted a difference between "normal wear" expected over the course of the field's life and a "defect."
"All polyethylene fibers will breakdown eventually as a result of the damaging effects of sunlight (UV), much like plastic outdoor furniture," FieldTurf wrote. "And like many products frequency of use (wear and tear) and quality of upkeep are also important factors in the product’s appearance."