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Illinois Country Living

August 2007 Issue: FeatureCommentaryCurrents SafetyGardenEnergy SolutionsFinest Cooking

Safety & Health

Recent Copper Thefts Cause Death and Damage
Thieves Target Utilities

Molly Hall
Safe Electricity

A New Mexico man was found dead beneath a power pole in August 2006. He was electrocuted while trying to cut copper wiring from a live transformer. A Dallas, Texas man lost his life and knocked out power to thousands in July 2006 when he cut into a live power line. Similar accidents have been reported in South Carolina, Kansas and other states. Since March, the Kentucky Public Service Commission has reported at least three electrocution deaths associated with theft of copper wire.

Across the country, increasing incidences of copper theft are met with rising fatalities and outages to thousands of people. With a 25 percent surge in these offenses over the past year, Safe Electricity urges you to be aware of the deadly risks and far-reaching consequences involved in copper theft.

Stealing material from an electric substation or utility pole can cause not only serious injuries and death, but extensive outages, fires and explosions - consequences that impact innocent people. The minimum damage that can occur is an outage, which may affect thousands of individuals.

Copper in wire is appealing to thieves who seek to sell the metal for scrap. Burglars will go as far as climbing power poles, scaling fences and breaking into buildings to steal the precious metal. While this issue is not new, higher prices for the metal are causing thieves to become bolder and more inventive, resulting in more fatalities and public impacts than ever before.

Some thieves steal wire and air conditioner coils in the middle of the night from houses and businesses or while posing as construction workers during the day. Others tamper with railroad signaling wire that contains copper, interfering with railroad traffic. Some even go directly into electric substations and dodge extremely high voltage to steal the metal.

Perhaps one of the scariest instances took place at a house in Peoria July 13, 2006. Thieves stole copper piping off a water heater in the basement and the house filled up with gas. There was an explosion that knocked the house several inches off its foundation. The house was demolished the same day.

These deaths and damages are completely unnecessary, and they could happen anywhere. People must be aware of this kind of theft and that careless handling of electric power can result in extremely dangerous situations. Always alert your utility provider when you see or suspect suspicious activity.

Safe Electricity offers these tips to help safeguard against electrical dangers and prevent copper theft:

· Never enter or touch equipment inside a substation; stay away from power lines and anything touching a power line.

· If you notice that your household transformer has been opened, call your electric utility immediately.

· If you see anyone around electric substations or transformers other than utility personnel or contractors, call the police.

· Install motion-sensor lights on the outside of your house and business to deter possible thieves.

· Store tools and wire cutters in a secure location, and never leave them out while away.

· If you work in construction, do not leave any wires unattended or leave loose wire at the job site, especially overnight. Consider hiring a night security guard.

· Help spread the word about the deadly consequences that can result from trying to steal copper.

Copper theft is not harmless. Dealing with any metal and electricity is a dangerous combination, especially when it is done without permission or training, and places the thief and others in danger.

More Information:

For more information, visit Safe Electricity is an electrical safety public awareness program supported by a coalition of several dozen organizations, including electric cooperatives and utilities, the University of Illinois, and other entities committed to promoting electrical safety.


© 2007 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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