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I-Team: Catalytic Converter Prices Could Rise Due To Thefts, War In Ukraine

BOSTON (CBS) - The connection between the war in Ukraine, Russian sanctions, and thefts of catalytic converters. Police in several communities say those thefts are on the rise.

Catalytic converters are valuable on the black market because they are made using rare metals.

One of those rare metals comes from Russia. Now with high demand to replace the stolen catalytic converters and U.S. sanctions on Russia, the price of the already expensive auto part could be going up.

Thieves hit 17 trucks on one night at the meat distribution center in Boston, stealing the catalytic converters. Kevin Clougher tells the I-Team, the parts are easy to get to, using a battery operated Sawzall. In minutes the brazen thieves are gone.

Clougher owns Limerick Meat. He says his trucks were targeted three times in the past few months. Police are investigating but so far there have been no arrests. "We don't know what it's going to take to stop them," Clougher said.

Police departments all over Massachusetts have been warning residents about the rise in thefts for years. In 2021 Burlington Police released surveillance video showing thieves attempting to steal catalytic converters from a car dealership. One of the suspects was caught.

Now the problem could be getting worse. Catalytic converters are made using precious metals including palladium. "Palladium is an expensive metal, it's more expensive than gold," Andrew Wolf a chemistry professor at UMass Lowell said. "We need palladium, because it is an important element in catalytic converters and replacing it would be difficult."

Difficult because most of it is mined in Russia. Malika Jeffries-El, is a chemistry professor at Boston University. She says there have already been supply chain issues with palladium. That has driven the price up – to more than $3,000 for an ounce.

With the war in Ukraine, and U.S. sanctions on Russia, getting palladium to make catalytic converters could get tougher. "Losing access to Russia would be problematic for the United States in terms of a source of palladium," Professor Jeffries-El said. "South Africa is another country that has significant reserves and so we would be relying a lot more on South African production and it's not quite clear that they can keep up."

That could mean the cost of an already expensive part could be going up. Said El Mennaouy says he spent $800 on a used part to replace the stolen catalytic converter in his Prius. Tough for the East Boston resident who says he wasn't planning on spending that money and is struggling to support his daughter and pay rent. Many like Said don't have the insurance coverage to replace the part.

Luckily Kevin Clougher did have the coverage for his truck. Insurance paid more than $3,000 for the repairs for each of the three times the part was stolen. But he is worried about the supply and the ability to get a catalytic converter if thieves hit his fleet again.

"I'm concerned," Clougher said. "I'm out of business if I can't drive my vehicles."

Transporting meat requires refrigerated trucks and he needs to be able to deliver to his customers, "I don't know where they are in supplying them hopefully we have enough," Clougher said.

Police are investigating the thefts but so far there have been no arrests. Victims say they are hopeful investigators will also crack down on the scrap metal shops that pay for the stolen parts.

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