Did you know that if you are a metal recycling entity in the state of Texas, you must register with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)?
According to the DPS website, “Anyone operating as a Metals Recycling Entity (MRE) in Texas is required to register with DPS, to comply with Texas Occupations Code, Chapter 1956. An MRE is ‘a business predominantly engaged in performing the manufacturing process by which scrap, used, or obsolete metal is converted into raw material products consisting of prepared grades and having an existing or potential economic value, by methods including processing, sorting, cutting, classifying, cleaning, baling, wrapping, shredding, shearing, or changing the physical form of that metal.’”
If you operate an MRE in Texas, you are required to collect certain identifying information from sellers of regulated materials to assist law enforcement with monitoring those who are buying and selling regulated materials.
This is not unique to Texas. One insurance company article notes that to “combat metal theft, more and more states and municipalities have passed laws tightening the restrictions on scrap dealers. In some instances, purchases of scrap metal are required to be held in reserve for a week or more before being resold in case they have been stolen. In other instances, states require dealers to record the seller’s name, address and driver’s license.”
Why should law enforcement and government agencies have a tighter control of scrap metal?
An article on the Texas online news site, Odessa American, discussed metal theft with one of the county’s sheriffs who noted that drug-related activity – especially involving heroin and methamphetamine – typically follows selling stolen metals.
The global drug problem is increasing, with production and trafficking of common street fentanyl analogs including carfentanil, methamphetamines, cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), heroin, and cathinones (bath salts) impacting communities worldwide and stressing already constrained investigative resources. Many law enforcement personnel utilize handheld narcotics analyzers to quickly identify suspected illegal drugs in the field and get clear, definitive results – which has helped fight narcotics threats. These analyzers have become an essential tool for the narcotic investigator. It is a resource that provides officers with valuable, accurate, real-time information that improves investigative efforts, efficiency and success.
Another way to spot narcotics threats is by monitoring scrap metal operations. The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services wrote in their “Theft of Scrap Metal” guide that to support their drug habits, addicts require repeated and quick access to small amounts of cash:
Drug addicts, particularly crystal methamphetamine users, appear to be linked with specific types of scrap metal theft. To support their drug habits, they require repeated and quick access to small amounts of cash, which they can easily obtain by selling small amounts of stolen metal to scrap metal dealers. However, there is little doubt that other types of drug addicts also steal scrap metal to support their habits….
….Petty-metal thieves who are drug addicts do not assess risk effectively when deciding to steal metal/copper from high-voltage substations, transformers, or electric high wires, and many have been electrocuted while trying to cut live wires from abandoned buildings and electric substations.
Throughout the industrialized world, stealing valuable metal has become a serious concern for the police, businesses, public utilities, railroad companies, and the community at large. We have previously written articles about metal theft that involved copper wire from electrical infrastructure or even power lines, metal railroad tracks, church bells, pieces of airport runways, air conditioners, beer kegs, manhole covers, statues, and an ever-increasing list of items containing metal, in particular, copper.
At one point, the theft of catalytic converters seemed to be continually in the news. Analysis of these auto parts using x-ray fluorescence (XRF) technology has revealed that they contain platinum group metals. Catalytic converters are pollution control devices coated with chemicals and a combination of platinum (Pt), rhodium (Rh) or palladium (Pd). Catalytic converter recycling plays a significant part in the effort to feed the constant demand for platinum from the automotive and other transportation industries that make these devices. If there’s a demand, you can be sure there will be theft.
Even children’s bicycles and bronze plaques and statues in cemeteries and museums are being stolen for their metal parts.
The U.S. Department of Justice Office offered specific responses to reduce scrap metal theft. Here are some of the suggestions:
- Increasing the Effort Required to Steel Metal. This involves physical security of certain metal products, locking down catalytic converters, and securing vulnerable places – like utility companies, construction sites, and empty buildings.
- Increasing Offenders’ Risks. This means identifying scrap metal thieves before they sell the metal – by noticing, for example, copper wire tied to the roof of a car or in the bed of a non-commercial truck, or identifying scrap metal sellers and making sure they record the IDs of sellers as well as verify them as authorized to sell scrap metal. The Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) collaborates with the National Crime Prevention Council and recommends that all dealers require sellers to provide a photo ID and collect license plate information for every transaction.
- Reducing Rewards for Selling Stolen Metal. Paying by check is another way to discourage stolen scrap metal. The guide cites the example that a drug addict who wants quick cash or those who cannot convert a check into cash easily might decide stealing metal is not worth their time. Denying cash transactions and requiring payments in check form may also deter thieves by increasing the risk that police can later identify them.
- Public Awareness. Educate the public on how scrap metal theft can cause ripples of danger and annoyances, as well as increased costs, into their own lives: trains delayed because of missing tracks, injury by missing manhole covers, dangers of electrocution from cut wires, and rising building charges because of construction thefts.
Another danger from stolen scrap is not knowing the origination of it. If the scrap was stolen from a hospital, lab, or manufacturing facility, it could contain a radiation source which means safety and regulatory compliance are at risk.
I have heard about stolen portable radiography cameras (contain high activity isotope like Co-60, Cs-137, etc) used in NDT, from the back of trucks , because the container is heavy (unknowing because of lead shielding) and appears to be valuable from a salvage standpoint. We talked about stolen radiological devices in a previous article, The Importance of Securing Nuclear Density Gauges. (There are radiation detection and identification technologies that can help law enforcement (as well as the scrap metal operators) stay safe. )
We are continually reading news about America’s drug epidemic, the opioid overdoses, and the deaths caused by fentanyl. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), 2018 data showed that every day, 128 people in the United States died after overdosing on opioids; 12.14 million people ages 12 and older had an opioid use disorder in 2016, including 153,000 12- to 17-year-olds.
The NIH revised its opioid overdose crisis page in February 2020 and reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could reduce that number by reducing the amount of scrap metal theft?