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BLM Colorado
Release Date: 05/22/09
Contacts: Erin Curtis (970) 244-3097    

Stolen Copper Wire Burns Create Hazardous Sites

Montrose, Colo. - Following the arrest of five men in connection with copper wire theft last week, BLM is warning the public to stay away from suspected copper wire burn sites, as they may contain toxic levels of hazardous materials.

Delta County Sheriff's Office arrested five men last Thursday for intentionally disposing of hazardous waste after a copper wire burn site was discovered on Bureau of Land Management land in Rattlesnake Gulch, part of the new Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area.

To extract copper from wire, thieves often burn the casings. Depending on what the wire is encased in, burn sites can contain toxic levels of lead and other heavy metals that can pose a risk to those handling it and to the environment. Effects of coming into contact with the residue or fumes from the burning can include lung irritation, cardiac problems and an increased risk of cancer. The risk is higher for children who come into contact with the lead and other heavy metals.

"We want to encourage anyone who comes across a site that they suspect to be a copper wire burn site to stay away from the site and immediately contact authorities," said BLM Law Enforcement Ranger Jim Maloney. "If you are out on BLM land, or anywhere, and you see suspicious activity, we encourage you not to approach the site or anyone near it. Get a vehicle license number if it is safe to do so, and call 9-1-1."

Dioxins, commonly associated with burnt insulation, are easily absorbed and stored in fat tissue. They are known carcinogens, and even low concentrations can cause serious health problems such as impaired immune system and liver function.   Long-term exposure to lead, a hazardous waste that is released into soil when copper wire insulation is burned, can cause acute or chronic damage to the nervous system, and high doses of copper can cause liver and kidney damage.

Heavy metals are dangerous because they tend to increase in concentration in the body over time. If they find their way into streams, lakes, rivers or groundwater, they can be dangerous to human health and the environment. It is dangerous for small children to ingest even a microscopic amount of highly concentrated lead.

The BLM will pursue restitution costs to clean up and properly dispose of any hazardous materials related to the burning of this copper wire on BLM land. For sites determined to be hazardous, depending on the amount and type of materials and the environmental concerns, contracted cleanup costs can run into the thousands of dollars. Last year, it cost the BLM Grand Junction Field Office nearly $15,000 to clean up three similar copper burn sites.

More than $80,000 worth of copper wire has been reported stolen recently in Delta County, Garfield County, Mesa County and the City of Grand Junction. Several copper wire theft investigations stemming from these incidents are continuing with the Grand Junction Police Department and the Delta, Mesa and Garfield county sheriff's offices.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

BLM Colorado   BLM Colorado Grand Junction Field Office      2815 H Rd      Grand Junction, CO 81506  

Last updated: 06-02-2009