News / USA

High Prices Trigger Rise in Copper Thefts

Demand from rapidly industrializing nations such as Brazil, China and India is up

This 150-year-old weathervane in Vermont had a lovely antique copper horse atop it until a thief scaled the roof and stole it
This 150-year-old weathervane in Vermont had a lovely antique copper horse atop it until a thief scaled the roof and stole it

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Ted Landphair

When you heard the word “copper” in old gangster movies, you were talking about the good guys: the police, the cops. Now, when you speak of copper and crime, you’re referring to the bad guys.

A combination of circumstances has led to a meteoric rise in thefts of copper from buildings, construction sites, and homes. Prices paid for scrap metal, especially copper, have skyrocketed, in part because of high demand from rapidly industrializing nations such as Brazil, China, and India.

Pipes, wires, cables, gutters, copper coils in air conditioners and generators, even power lines are being ripped off - literally. Thieves have even disabled entire electrical substations.

And the damage caused by these rip-and-run criminals far exceeds the replacement costs for the stolen metal.  

In rural Pennsylvania earlier this month, two brothers were charged with stealing an entire 15.5-ton bridge - cutting it apart with a blowtorch and selling it to a scrap-metal company. Since the recycling company doesn’t get many bridges, its owners called the coppers.

The problem has been compounded by the number of foreclosed and otherwise vacant buildings, sitting empty and tempting.

Copper thefts have caused gas leaks, water damage, and darkened streetlights in jurisdictions across the country. A historic church in downtown Washington, D.C., lost its protection against lightning when thieves snipped away a grounding cable.

And now criminals are committing what authorities are calling “a brand new crime” in and around buildings - especially restaurants. They’re siphoning new and used cooking oil out of storage tanks and reselling it for up to 4 dollars a gallon.

And if the storage tanks are copper, they’re carrying away the whole thing.

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