By Mark Falanga
Photo by F. Delventhal.
If you look hard enough, there’s money on the streets. No, seriously, you just have to look. Still don’t see it? Oh, you must be looking for green pieces of paper or silver coins. What you should be looking for are those giant, brownish pieces of metal that cover the entrance into sewer drains. They have many names: sewer caps, manhole covers, and the very precise term “utility access panels.” No matter what you call them, thieves are taking advantage of these accessible assets by removing them and collecting money for scrap metal.
There are many reasons for the rise in scrap metal sales, the most obvious being the growth of industrialization in the field of science and technology. The need for metals has increased and so has the scrap metal rates. As the world struggles to supply fresh sources of iron ore to meet growing demand, scrap metal is often used to fill in the gaps.
Manhole covers are in a way, a thief’s ideal target for three reasons. First, they’re very abundant. In New York City, Consolidated Edison alone has over 200,000 manhole covers. Secondly, they’re compact. In 2008, Chicago police pulled over a 33-year-old woman after she failed to use a turn signal. The authorities say they found 11 manhole covers in her car, eventually leading to charges against her. Lastly, they’re heavy. Scrap metal pays by weight, and some of these manhole covers can weigh as much as 300 pounds.
While the covers can provide thieves with money, the cost to repair these covers is much greater. At current market scrap metal prices, a manhole cover can fetch for about $30. However, it costs around $200 to replace them. This is why police are starting to crack down on thieves and talking to scrap dealers about refusing to accept these manhole covers.
The quest to stop these thieves is not just for monetary reasons, but for safety as well. Needless to say, the danger of stealing these manhole covers is very present. A quick Google search will show how many times people can fall down these exposed openings, often leading to serious injury or even death.
Clearly, something must be done about the theft of manhole covers, but as long as scrap metal prices remain high, thieves will always target them. But what if the manhole covers were not made of cast iron? Dan Bryndle, Business Development Manager at VPC Fiberglass in Medina, New York, offers a solution: fiberglass manhole covers.
“In the city of Philadelphia alone, over 600,000 manhole covers were stolen in one year,” Bryndle says. “and the cost to replace cast iron covers at an average of $200 can be very pricey for any city.”
He explains to BTR that the fiberglass covers offer more than inexpensive production. For starters, the covers can be locked and sealed into the street, which would prevent any possible theft attempt.
Another positive feature to the fiberglass covers is that they’re more ergonomically contoured on a road’s surface than traditional cast iron covers. “This makes the road smoother for when a flatter road is required, such as for snow removal,” says Bryndle. “This in turn saves the buyer from having to replace covers more often due to just usual wear and tear.”
Lastly, the size and weight of the fiberglass covers are a vast improvement over the bulky cast iron covers. “The average weight of a 24-inch cast iron cover is around 125 pounds and for a 38-inch cover, it can be as heavy as 270 pounds,” Bryndle says. “Our 24-inch fiberglass cover weighs 30 pounds and our 38-inch cover weighs 50 pounds.”
A lighter weight cover would result in quicker removal if needed, plus, the worker has a much lower risk of injury with a lighter cover.
Ultimately, the problem of stolen cast iron manhole covers won’t go away as long as scrap metal prices remain high. Fiberglass manhole covers can be a more expensive initial investment, but without the threat of theft, they could become the most cost-efficient option. Cities and companies looking to save money and maintain safer streets now have a choice. It seems, like fiberglass itself, that the choice is clear.