Sustainably Speaking

Copper thieves

Just Google “copper theft” and you will find article after article about copper being stolen from construction sites, abandoned homes, vacant buildings, communication towers, electrical sub-stations, etc., etc. No city or town is immune to it. Every city I Google, I find newspaper and magazine articles, along with television reports of copper being stolen.

In Minnesota thieves hit an outdoor ice rink:

In Warren, Mich., a couple had their home that was for sale stripped of its copper pipes right after they received an offer for the house,

And if things couldn’t get any worse, copper was stolen from Habitat for Humanity homes in Lockport Township, Ill.,

NBC Nightly News aired the report, “Hot Copper: A Surge in Copper Thefts Nationwide is Costing Businesses Billions of Dollars.” The report investigates Operation Copper Head, a special Las Vegas police unit that is on the lookout for copper thieves. Thieves hit a day care, stripping copper wires from the air conditioner and stealing the copper pipes. To break a day care’s air conditioning unit during the hottest months of the year? That’s really low… Thieves have also been ripping off copper spools and pipes at construction sites –– anywhere copper can be found, thieves are not too far away.  

Copper theft started years ago, but now copper, along with other metals, is in high demand due to a construction boom. Yes, construction is picking up in the U.S., but oversees there is an increased demand –– big time –– for this metal. According to Morgan Stanley, copper prices will advance 7.6% in 2013 from last year as demand in China, the U.S. and even Europe is forecast to rise amid a supply deficit for the metal.

According to an intelligence assessment prepared by the Criminal Investigative Division of the FBI, the demand for copper from developing nations, such as China and India, is creating a international copper trade, and copper thieves are exploiting this demand and the resulting price surge by stealing and selling the metal for high profits to recyclers across the U.S.

“As the global supply of copper continues to tighten, the market for illicit copper will likely increase,” notes the assessment. “Many states are also taking countermeasures by enacting or enhancing legislation regulating the scrap industry –– to include increased recordkeeping and penalties for copper theft and noncompliant scrap dealers. However, there are limited resources available to enforce these laws, and a very small percentage of perpetrators are arrested and convicted. Additionally, as copper thefts are typically addressed as misdemeanors, those individuals convicted pay relatively low fines and serve short prison terms.”

One of my relatives actually worked at a scrap metal dealer (for only a few months, thank God) in the Metro-Detroit area. He told me that there is a lot of transferring of materials, including precious copper, from yard to yard that goes on, and from what he understand most of it does end up in China. From the stories of his employment experience, I think this is probably one of these non-compliant scrap metal dealers that FBI is referring to in its assessment.

You are probably wondering where I’m going with this…  I plan to write an article about copper theft, and I want to know if you have experienced this. So if you have worked on a construction site, residential job, etc., in which copper was stolen from, let me know. Please e-mail me at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you.


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