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CBS2 Exclusive Investigation: Sources Say Trouble-Plagued Turf Is In Tri-State Public Schools And Parks

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)Artificial athletic fields are a huge investment and can cost taxpayers millions.

Across the country, some of those turf fields at public schools and parks are prematurely falling apart, CBS2 reported.

A number of those faulty fields may be right here in our area, and taxpayers are the last to know.

The soccer fields at Brentwood State Park may seem perfectly fine until you look at your shoes.

The artificial turf is breaking off, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported.

"It's on people's clothes, on their cleats, it's covered in it," said West Islip Soccer Club President Gary Koffsky.

It's happening at public schools in too.

CBS2 asked turf consultant Joe DiGeronimo to come look at nearly a dozen Long Island fields, all of which are still under warranty. DiGeronimo is the turf consultant for the City of Los Angeles.

"It frays, and then the frays break down into smaller fibers," said DiGeronimo. "In other words, a wide fiber would stand wear and tear. Where it breaks down to hairline fibers, those fibers break apart. They don't have strength."

Schools and parks paid up to a million dollars for each field, expecting they would last a decade or more.

Artificial Turf Investigation
(credit: CBS2)

Gusoff and DiGeronimo were easily able to grab handfuls of the turf up with their bare hands. The blades of grass are splitting, fraying and breaking down prematurely, DiGeronimo said.

At Island Trees High School, turf was installed just six years ago.

DiGeronimo called the turf there "a total failure" that "should be replaced at no charge."

It was a similar story elsewhere.

"There's not one spot in this field that hasn't failed," DiGeronimo said of the field at Levittown's MacArthur High School. Their field was installed seven and a half years ago.

Fields at Medford Memorial Park and in West Islip have also faded in six and a half years or less.

"This field failed three years ago," DiGeronimo said of the West Islip field. "It's just that the owner doesn't know, because when they come out here it still has the same green color."

Those split, weak, broken fibers could make the fields less safe, DiGeronimo told Gusoff. That may require them to be replaced much sooner than expected.

"They're not getting their money's worth," DiGeronimo said. "The life expectancy of this field has been shortened by 30-35 percent. So that's an investment."

That investment is made by taxpayers, who may be unaware of headlines about fields failing across the country, or that many local fields are made of the same defective fibers, Gusoff reported.

A "turf war" broke out in 2011, when industry leader FieldTurf sued a fiber manufacturer. FieldTurf claimed the product was a bait-and-switch, and degraded prematurely because it was less durable with less ultraviolet protection.

That lawsuit was settled out of court, but sources tell CBS2 that much of the defective turf from 2007-2010 made its way to our area.

Lists acquired by CBS2 name well over 100 fields in New York and New Jersey that likely got the flawed fibers.

Cash-strapped schools and municipalities paid for a more expensive field because they thought it would pay off in the long run, Gusoff reported.

"They are not getting what they bought. And they paid a premium to get something that would last, and it's not lasting," said attorney Peter Lindborg of Lindborg & Mazor LLP. Lindborg is part of a legal team representing three California schools suing FieldTurf.

Lindborg says the company crossed the line by not notifying schools about the defect.

"When you sell something knowing it's going to fail and knowing what you are billing it to be, in our world, that's fraud," Lindborg said.

FieldTurf says it didn't notify every customer about the defective turf because the breakdown "has arisen in only about 2 percent of 7,000 fields" and "primarily in higher UV environments."

Here's FieldTurf's complete statement:

FieldTurf is dedicated to our customers and to honoring our warranties. We have worked closely with our customers to resolve any issues with the TenCate Duraspine fibers when they have arisen by replacing or repairing impacted fields.  However, it's important to note that there has not been an issue with all fields using the fiber, and our estimates suggest that this issue has arisen in only about 2% of our 7,000 fields.  Additionally, the fields that have exhibited early degradation were primarily in high UV areas (California, Texas, Florida) and have not appeared in New York State. We will continue to work with any customer who contacts us to evaluate their field and stand by our warranties.

However, inside sources told Gusoff that field failures in upstate New York, Rhode Island, Ohio and Pennsylvania amount to evidence that this isn't just a Sunbelt problem. Sources said the company is playing a game with numbers, because many owners don't know what to look for.

The field at Roslyn High School is still lush after nearly 10 years, and FieldTurf says its product there has aged normally and received better maintenance. But sources told Gusoff Roslyn did not get the defective turf.

As for the other schools CBS2 visited, the schools replied with either a "no comment" or "no problem," Gusoff reported.

Bayshore High School told CBS2 "The fields have performed to expectation," adding "We fully expect [they] will last through… the warranty."

"Then they expect the field to go only five or six years, because this field is eight years old and it failed three years ago," DiGeronimo said. "So they're wrong."

"We were promised one thing, and now we are seeing another," said Suffolk County Legislator Monica Martinez, who represents Brentwood. The Brentwood State Park's publically funded fields are nearly seven years old.

Martinez is calling for attorney general to investigate the matter.

FieldTurf said it will continue to work with any customer who contacts them to evaluate their fields and stands by its warranties. FieldTurf's installer LandTek did not respond to CBS2's requests for comment.

Experts say the time for concerned taxpayers to ask their school boards about their fields is now, since full replacement warranties are expiring all the time.

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