Kathleen Michels, 59, said she always knew when her sons, Matt and Josh Kickenson, had played on an artificial turf field because the black crumb rubber would be “all over the house.”
Instead of practicing on their then-new field, the football team at Montgomery Blair High School elected to practice on the older, grass field near the school, said former student Matt Kickenson, 21, of Silver Spring.
“I never really enjoyed practicing on that [artificial turf] field,” he said.
The maker of the field is the object of a proposed class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey over its marketing after schools, municipalities, businesses and other buyers, including Montgomery Parks, contended that the fields degraded early.
The lawsuit focuses on fields “not handling what they’re supposed to be able to handle,” Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) said.
In a region where playing fields are in high demand from organized leagues and pickup teams, the upkeep and longevity of the surfaces have drawn attention from government officials, parents and community groups.
The company says it no longer markets fields made of Duraspine, the plastic fiber FieldTurf used in many artificial turf fields marketed between 2005 to 2011, according to company statements in the New Jersey case.
About 1,400 of the Duraspine fields were sold in the United States in those years before the product was phased out, the company said in the court filings.
In 2011, FieldTurf sued the Chinese company that made the fibers for many of the Duraspine fields after FieldTurf found that ultraviolet light caused the fibers to break off, it said in a lawsuit it brought against the fiber supplier. That lawsuit settled for an undisclosed amount in 2014 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
“Since we first became aware of the issue with Duraspine, we have been responsive to our customers experiencing issues with their fields and we have not hid from this problem,” FieldTurf said in a statement that also noted a court has not approved a class action against the firm. The company also said, “We are not aware of any lawsuit filed against FieldTurf by Montgomery County.”
In the case of Montgomery Parks, officials said they decided to join the legal action after the artificial turf field at Blair High School, which had been installed by the parks department for $1.3 million in August 2009, was worn to the point that an engineering consultant in October 2016 recommended it not be used for competition until issues including wear and shock absorption could be addressed.
Matt Kickenson said he was on the football team at the high school during that period and said it only practiced on the artificial turf field the day before a game.
Montgomery County Parks replaced the artificial field at Montgomery Blair High School with a turf field that included organic components.
For parks officials, taking part in the legal challenge seemed the best option for addressing the issues raised by the experience with the Blair field, said Melissa Chotiner, a parks spokeswoman.
At the time the county decided the Blair field had to be replaced, it still had roughly four months left under an 8-year warranty and the cost of replacement was $725,000, according to statements filed by Montgomery County Parks Director Michael Riley to Montgomery Council Council last April.
In the marketing lawsuit by customers, they contend FieldTurf marketed fields that would last a decade —twice the life of some other fields — with “unmatched durability,” and allege the fields proved to “inherently and materially defective.”