Copper theft leaves Fla. school without drinking water

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. --

Orange County schools have already lost more than $100,000 this year to copper thieves. The latest target was Excel Alternative Schools.

The theft forced the district to give 300 students bottled water Friday.

Orange County Schools sprang into action Friday when administrators realized there would be no drinking water for students at Excel Alternative Schools after a thief vanished with a copper backflow valve; the valve is what protects the water supply from contamination or pollution.

"They're hurting themselves as much as they're hurting those kids," resident Heidi Carasco told WFTV.

Carasco lives in the Rosemont area near the school, where county contractors estimate the copper thief caused about $1,000 in damage. The part stolen is probably only worth $30 to $40 as scrap.

But even small thefts add up. The Orange County Sheriff's Office estimates at least 900 businesses and homes were hit by metal thieves this year.

When plumbers replaced the back flow valve, they also replaced the PVC pipe with metal tubing. They hope that and the cement slab they plan to pour will be enough to prevent future thefts.

The county is considering an ordinance that would restrict recycling businesses from providing instant cash payments for certain metals, but some owners argue they are already subject to a number of stringent guidelines and the ordinance would unfairly impact business.

Thieves are quick to steal copper, because the cost of the scrap metal is so high. You can get $3.88 a pound for scrap copper and the price has slowly been rising. A year ago, scrap copper was about $3 a pound.

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