All-Weather High School Football Fields Are Melting Under L.A.'s Heat


Football fields at five L.A. high schools are melting from L.A.'s heat and will soon have to be replaced.

The material used for the five supposedly all-weather sports fields is said to contain a defective material that is causing them to break down, reports the L.A. Times. The turf on the LAUSD fields contains tiny pellets of synthetic material that were designed to withstand temperatures of 180 degrees. But it apparently can't handle Southern California's recent heat wave. As a result, many of the schools' teams have been forced to play elsewhere while work begins on replacing the fields, which include Woodland Hills El Camino Real, Fairfax and Sotomayor high schools. Diego Rivera High will replace their field in late September and Washington Prep will wait until after the fall season. According to former Diego Rivera football coach Jim McElroy, "Pellets were melting big time. It looked like a bunch of gum all over the place."

While the pellets were said to withstand higher temperatures, in tests they began melting at 140 degrees, according to the Times. And because the synthetic fields absorb heat they can reach temperatures much higher than surrounding air temperatures. The result in most cases was a gummy or "clay-like solution" that eventually resulted in a much harder playing surface. The fields were supposed to last between 8 and 10 years. The materials used for all five fields came from the Changzhou Regalfill Rubber Co. based in China. The synthetic, all-weather fields—which in most cases was installed within the past five years—were seen as way to save on water and maintenance costs. Installation, however, can cost nearly $2 million with grading and drainage systems.

Often artificial turf contains what are referred to as crumb rubber pellets that measure about one-sixteenth to one-quarter inch. However, after health concerns over potential cancer-links were raised in 2009, LAUSD said it would no longer use materials from recycled tires. In the case of the five LAUSD schools, a type of plastic known as TPE was used.

Mark Hovatter, chief facilities executive for the LAUSD, tells the Times that the district will spend between $500,000 and $800,000 to replace the fields this year while working to get reimbursements from contractors. The district says they will continue to use synthetic fields—which are more durable than grass and don't require water—once they find partners to help share the cost and upkeep requirements. "There is an expense to it and you have to replace it," Hovatter said, "but if we can find other partners to share costs, we would move forward with the synthetic option."