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Copper Theft Wreaking Havoc

February 29, 2008 at 19:46 by Mario

A wave of copper thefts sweeping Australia and the United States is causing havoc as essential services are put at risk.
The surging demand for copper in India and China has pushed the price of scrap copper to $7,500 per tonne in Australia, authorities say, making it a target for increasingly-bold thieves.
Copper thieves have caused chaos for rail commuters in NSW and Victoria, risked their lives stealing the metal from power lines and turned tomb raiders, taking copper plaques and vases from cemeteries.
On Friday, NSW Police Minister David Campbell said criminals in Sydney had sunk to a new low, stealing copper taps from a school.
“Rail services were also disrupted when more than 1.5km of rail (power) line was stolen last month between Emu Plains and Lapstone in Sydney,” Mr Campbell said in a statement.
In the past two months, there have been 90 reports of copper theft to NSW police.
NSW Energy Minister Ian Macdonald said that copper thieves caused havoc on the state’s north coast rail line last month when hundreds of metres of copper wire were stolen from signal poles.
“Services were cancelled north of Grafton, leaving train passengers stranded, but significantly the signal failures left motorists and passengers vulnerable to collisions and derailments,” Mr Macdonald said in a statement.
Copper is being replaced in Melbourne’s trackside cables with a lower-grade metal after the city’s train network was repeatedly targeted by thieves.
In December, the theft of copper cabling from four Melbourne railway crossings caused extensive peak-hour delays, after thieves risked being zapped by 1500 volts.
Copper thieves are also targeting partially-completed houses, cutting away copper pipes from construction sites, as well as electricity power lines.
In the US, spivs working in organised gangs or as petty thieves are behind an epidemic of metal theft, says Bill Yoshimoto of California’s Agricultural Crime Task Force.
“There is so much copper wire coming in that we know a lot of it isn’t scrap metal that someone’s discarded — they’re pulling down transmission wires to get it,” Mr Yoshimoto told AFP last week.
NSW authorities stepped up their public awareness campaign against copper theft, enlisting celebrity handyman Scott Cam as its public face.
Mr Cam will appear in a series of television and radio announcements warning people about the dangers of stealing copper and the disruption caused by interfering with public utilities.
People illegally trading in copper are also being warned that the source of the metal can be identified by police, either because it has been tagged with permanent tracing technology or because scrap metal dealers can now keep a record of the source of all copper transactions.

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