Thefts of Industrial Copper Pipe and Backflow Protection Devices on Rise Locally

By Terry Miller

Cross Connection & Water Pollution Control Program manages drinking water protection throughout the County, which includes to a large extent the use of backflow prevention devices. An ongoing problem that has plagued this industry (plumbing\backflow protection) is in the theft of these devices. Assembly Bill 2298 has been proposed in the hopes of stopping these types of thefts along with fire hydrants and water meters.
The metal scrap yards where these devices end up is the focus behind the bill.
Carlos Borja, MPH, REHS, Chief Environmental Health Specialist with Cross Connection & Water Pollution Control Program at the Department of Public Health, Bureau of Environmental Protection says “We typically receive monthly calls regarding stolen backflow prevention devices.
The latest was here in El Monte whereupon visiting the site manager I found out that he had reported it to El Monte Police Dept. I paid the local metal salvage yard a visit just to see on the off chance if that device had ended up there. To my thinking it would not. What would be the chances of that? But it was worth look. Unfortunately the device was not sitting there waiting for me to discover it, but what I did find was a surprisingly sophisticated computer inventory system. As individuals bring scrap metal to these facilities the scrap yards routinely take a copy of the person’s DL, a picture of the person, the vehicle with license plate and a picture of the person with the metal scrap. I visited a couple of these scrap yards and found that most of the larger outfits have this system.”
Borja decided to visit a couple of these local scarp yards on a weekly basis just to see if any type of backflow device showed up. The first week he found some but they had come from a legitimate plumbing outfit. However, the following week he discovered four backflow prevention devices in a pile of brass that had been received over the weekend. The manager did not know who brought them in but was going to do some research. Borja recorded the serial numbers off of each and the manager separated the devices from the rest of the pile. Later Borja looked up the serial numbers on the county database (they inventory all backflow devices for the purposes of regulating the annual testing of those devices) and found that they came from a local property in Duarte.
Borja noticed new copper installation and new backflow devices had been installed when he visited that property in Duarte. Talking with the manager he mentioned that over the weekend his place of business had been the target by individuals saw cutting the copper and brass pipe. The next business down the street was also a victim of these thefts. Both owners had contacted the police department. Borja contacted the police department and notified them that the devices he found at the scrap yard were, in fact, stolen from the property in Duarte.
With thefts like these, the Public Health Department should be contacted along with the Police Department and not the Police Department only. With a coordinated effort between the three, the Health Department, the Police\Sheriffs Department and the metal salvage yard a reasonable case can be made against those individual(s) who target businesses for the copper\brass.


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