- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

The rats are winning.
A year ago, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams declared war on rats. The landscape is not littered with rat carcasses. But it is littered. So the rat population continues to thrive in the District.
The mayor's initiative is supposed to target restaurants and residences that attract rats because of poorly stored garbage. So far, only 100 citations have been issued to food establishments in the city. None have been issued to residences. Businesses are fined $1,000 and residences $75 per citation for sloppy trash management.
"There are approximately 5,500 food establishments, many of which fringe Georgetown, Adams Morgan and Capitol Hill. That's where we've been targeting," said Ted Gordon, chief operating officer of the D.C. Health Department.
"Before the Williams administration, a fine didn't mean a … thing. Now all of a sudden people are saying 'Whoa, they're going to collect this from me?'" said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat.
"I think we are holding our own because the city's got a far more efficient rat-control effort going than we've ever had," Mr. Graham said.
But Andy Miscuk, chairman of the advisory neighborhood commission in Adams Morgan, said there has been "no noticeable decrease" in the rat population there.
"It's not just a commercial problem," Mr. Miscuk said. "We've got a rat problem in residential areas. A lot of landlords don't take care of their tenants' trash, so the tenants go and toss that trash on top of open Dumpsters behind apartments. It's just like a buffet for rats."
Mr. Gordon said residents need to remember that "this problem has been neglected for about a decade and now this mayor has made it a priority." He said combating the rat problem in residential areas is "going to take time."
"You have to eliminate the domestic food supply; if you don't do that, the poisoning will have no effect," he said.
As part of the effort to eradicate the rat population, Mr. Williams promised to distribute "super cans" — sealable trash containers — to an estimated 75,000 buildings with three or fewer unit households throughout the District.
The city paid $4 million to C&E; Industries of Washington for 80,000 cans, said Mary Myers, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.
But city officials disagree on the number of 4-foot, heavy-duty plastic, rat-proof garbage cans that have been distributed. One official said about 10,000. Another official had no idea of the number.
"I don't know how many of them have been passed out, but I have one," said Gerard Brown, an officer with the Health Department's first-ever Bureau of Rodent Control, established in April 1999 during a "rat summit" hosted by Mr. Williams.
Miss Myers said, "As of this week, every building with three or fewer unit households that gets city trash collection once a week will have gotten one. That excludes Georgetown because they have trash collection more than once a week."
During the rat summit, a plan was developed to strike at the rats' food supply and habitat by educating people and punishing those who aid the rodents' survival.
"We're not doing enough to eliminate the source of food — these are animals that can survive on battery cables — we're offering them a movable feast," Mr. Graham said.
The budget for rodent control is set to double from $600,000 to $1.2 million for fiscal 2002, an increase that "will allow for the hiring of 15 new officers who will be trained to go out and issue citations," rat bureau chief Mark Greenleaf said in a telephone interview last week. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Mr. Greenleaf said it is still "too early to judge the progress against rats," repeating a statement he made to reporters at a January news conference. "We're just now gearing up the residential piece of this effort," he said.
True enough, the war against the rodent is long and arduous.
Baltimore is finally winning its decades-long war against rats, in part because of the high number of fines the city's 3-year-old crew of sanitation police has slapped on residents with unkempt yards. In an average two-week period, the sanitation police handed out from 1,300 to 1,600 citations, generating about $100,000.
The District also can take heart from Chicago's success. Officials there credit the serious decline in the rat population over the past two decades to an aggressive public education campaign, coupled with fining businesses and residents for sloppy trash management.
In Boston, the number of rats declined in recent years, and they are heading toward extinction by early 2005. City officials repeatedly and aggressively used poison in the sewers to keep rats at bay during a massive highway construction project known as the "Big Dig," which runs beneath the city's downtown area. They also distributed securely lidded garbage cans to restaurants and residents near the construction corridor.
While the District has earned some praise for cracking down on businesses that harbor rat populations, many residents and visitors can recite rat horror stories.
Chris Turpin, who lives on 16th Street NW, near Dupont Circle, said there are several rat holes or obviously established colonies of rats throughout his neighborhood.
"I was having a drink outside a well-known bar on 18th Street the other night when three rats walked up and just sat there on the sidewalk. We ended up sitting, drinking with our feet in the air for fear of being nibbled."
Mr. Turpin said the rats sat and looked around, as if enjoying the nightlife.
D.C. officials say there is no way to measure exactly how many rats there are in the District. But rodents are breeders. Female rats, some as long as 8 inches not counting the tail, can give birth to three to six litters of eight or nine a year.


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