Manhole cover theft

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A manhole with no cover in New Orleans

Manhole cover theft is the phenomenon of manhole covers being stolen, usually for resale as scrap. Long considered to be a childish prank or simple vandalism, this type of theft is often expensive to municipalities, and dangerous to their residents.[1] In recent years, the theft of manhole covers for financial reasons (i.e., to sell them when scrap metal prices are high) has also become more common.[2]


India and China[edit]

Manhole cover theft has become a serious problem in India and China, where missing manhole covers caused at least eight deaths in 2004.[3]

In the city of Kolkata, India more than 10,000 manhole covers were taken in two months. These were replaced with concrete covers, but these were also stolen, this time for the rebar inside them.[4]

According to China's Xinhua News Agency, about "240,000 manhole and street-drain covers were stolen in Beijing in 2004."[5]


In China Shakes the World, James Kynge describes the phenomenon: the several weeks beginning in mid-February 2004, when, slowly at first but with mounting velocity, manhole covers started to disappear from roads and pavements around the world. As Chinese demand drove up the price of scrap metal to record levels, thieves almost everywhere had the same idea. As darkness fell, they levered up the iron covers and sold them to local merchants, who cut them up and loaded them onto ships to China. The first displacements were felt in Taiwan, the island just off China's southeast coast. The next were in other neighbors such as Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan... Wherever the sun set, pilferers worked to satisfy China's hunger. More than 150 covers disappeared during one month in Chicago. Scotland's "great drain robbery" saw more than a hundred vanish in a few days. From Montreal to Gloucester to Kuala Lumpur, unsuspecting pedestrians stumbled into holes.

In Newham, East London, nearly 200 grates and covers were stolen in 2004.[6] A manhole cover designed by artist Antony Gormley was stolen in 2013, ten years after its installation.[7]

In March and April 2012, Ajax, Ontario and Niagara Falls, Ontario[8] had dozens of manhole covers stolen.

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