HVAC installers have been hit by a significant increase in the theft of copper, prompting warnings over public health and safety.
There have been more than 5,000 thefts this year from gas and electricity networks and the railway network, leading police to call for more powers to tackle metal theft.
The rise has been attributed to the price of refined copper rocketing from less than £2,000 a tonne in 2008 to more than £5,000 last month.
Police are expecting the problem to get worse, especially as copper prices are forecast to continue to rise next year, and are calling for new powers to tackle the problem.
Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering chief executive Blane Judd told H&V News he would welcome any increased powers that would help the authorities prevent copper theft and deter people from carrying out copycat crimes.
He encouraged installers to consider making their vulnerable installations “as theft-proof as possible” by boxing off the pipes and painting the box with vandal-proof paint to deter opportunists looking for a quick theft.
Mr Judd said: “As the professional body responsible for the plumbing and heating industry, one of our main remits is to protect public health and safety.
“We are very concerned about the increase in copper thefts from gas and hot water installations as this could lead to explosion, asphyxiation or scalding of the villain or innocent members of the public.
The police say that stolen copper piping is often sold to scrap metal dealers who do not enquire about the origin of the material before selling it on to unsuspecting legitimate dealers.
The new powers they are proposing include taking CCTV recordings of people selling scrap metal, combined with photo identification of sellers.
They would also like users of metal to emboss their product to make it less attractive to thieves.
Energy Networks Association spokesman Tony Glover said although the value of the material stolen is never more than £100, the impact could be considerable.
“Some of our equipment is oil-insulated and a £5 brass valve - that’s all they stole - resulted in 30,000 litres of oil coming out of some equipment.
“Luckily it was contained but if it had not been, it could have caused accidents, got into the water table, had an impact on wildlife. It really is a huge problem.”
Police say the thefts are commonly carried out by opportunist offenders or small groups working together in regeneration areas.