Copper Thefts Cut into Youth Sports

October 21, 2008 04:15 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
High copper prices are pushing scrap metal thieves to steal copper from community playfields across the United States. Hospitals and their patients have also taken a hit from the trend.

Copper Thefts Leave Park and Rec Sports in the Dark

In 2005, a pound of copper garnered about $1 at scrap yards. Earlier this year the same amount fetched more than $4. Driven in part by increased demand from tiger economies—developing countries with rapid industrial growth—the rising price of copper has sparked a trend of metal theft across the country and the world.

Three suburban Atlanta fields home to youth soccer teams have been the victims of copper theft in the past month. Scrap metal bandits ripped out wiring from light poles at Henderson Park field in the area, resulting in about $6,000 in damage, and overcrowding, as Tucker Youth Association teams that normally practiced after dark under the lights had to share field space with other players.

Jessie Spencer, a 15-year-old player in the league, told CNN, "I'm kind of upset that we didn't get to practice on the same field and we have to be all crowded out here."

In Norcross, Ga., the Pickneyville complex at the Norcross Soccer Academy sustained some $25,000 in damage from copper theft. A sports complex for The Optimist Club of Fort Worth, Texas, raised $20,000 for repairs for its sports field after more than 9,000 feet of copper wiring was stolen.

Youth sports programs are not the only sector to suffer from copper theft. Dozens of cancer patients missed their radiation therapy at California's Oncology Therapies of Vista on July 30 after a metal thief ripped out copper plumbing that cools radiation machines in the clinic.

The perpetrator didn’t finish the job, leaving behind copper pipes that would have been worth as much as $400 at a recycling center, but the damage was enough to cancel appointments that day.

Rising copper prices have also caused a rash of thefts across the country, and foreclosed homes have been one of the hardest hit targets.

The trend has also driven up the price of ammunition, and caused lawmakers to pass a bill making steel the main metal in coins, rather than pricey copper.

Following the San Diego break-in, plumbers and technicians worked through the night in order to repair the machines by Thursday. Amber Duff, an administrative assistant at the clinic, said the patients were “disappointed but gracious” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“They knew it wasn’t our fault. But when you’re dealing with something like cancer, any change to your treatment schedule is disappointing. I don’t think the thieves knew the depth of the problem they were creating.”

The copper is sold to scrap metal recyclers, who then send the commodity metal to smelters to process the metal for reuse. CNN writes, "One thing that makes copper desirable is that it retains most of its natural properties through the recycling process."

There are laws in place at the state level to address copper theft concerns. Georgia passed a law in 2007 that permits copper thieves to be prosecuted for both the value of the stolen copper as well as any other damage, which often makes the theft a felony. Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a provision this year requiring that for all sales larger than $250, scrap metal recyclers mail checks to the homes of copper metal sellers.

In terms of nationwide legislation, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have brought forth the Copper Theft Prevention Act of 2008. Echoing laws already in place in 29 states, the bill would require copper recyclers to maintain records for at least one year of transaction data as well as sellers' names, addresses and identification card/driver's license information.

Background: Copper prices, theft on the rise

Related Topics: Other effects of rising copper prices


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