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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Reducing metal thefts by hitting the supply routes.

20 February, 2008
Theft of metals, particularly copper, zinc and nickel, funds drug abuse and is notoriously difficult to prevent and detect.
Individual metal thieves risk their lives everyday pulling down supply lines, stripping out transformers and even chopping into underground cabling. Usually, they do this because they need fast cash to fund a drug habit and there are plenty of willing buyers particularly for copper which is shipped overseas to China.

The problem is one that is felt throughout the world and Chinese road borders have daily convoys of lorries hauling stolen metal from across Russia and central Asia. The security is so poor that many of the drivers don't even process the metal so the man hole covers that have been wrenched out of Russia's roads for a couple of dollars each are piled up visibly in the load.

In America and Europe, the forged iron of road furniture isn't much use for earning enough from its theft so the more valuable copper wire is first of all processed with its sheathing stripped off and handled through scrap dealers for onward shipment.

The common theme is that in all cases, the metal is useless to the thief and so middle men are needed and these are the targets of campaigns by many police forces to reduce the loss of metal.

Dallas distribution company Oncor, has gone one step further being tired of losing copper from its distribution network. By investing in prevention, the company is hoping to claw back this money through reducing losses across its network. Oncor is embarking on a public awareness campaign and offering substantial rewards for the arrest and conviction of people caught thieving its metal.

Their method of hitting the supply chain is to use nano-technology marking agents to leave invisible identification traces within copper wire so that the metal is identifiable after theft and after the traditional sheath identification marks have already been burnt off.

If more widely adopted, initiatives like this will yield benefits in terms of cost, time, inconvenience and public safety.
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