- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2006

D.C. health officials say they are winning the war on rats, although evidence of the rodents still can be found in holes and hiding spots around the city.

The number of rat complaints in the city has decreased by more than 20 percent since 2000, the year after Mayor Anthony A. Williams held a rat-control summit that led him to declare a citywide war on the rodents.

Five years ago, rats were “a real nuisance in the community,” said Gerard Brown, program manager for the D.C. Department of Health’s Rodent Control Division. “They were eating vehicle wires, doing a lot of damage to property, and people were seeing them everywhere. There was just a huge amount of complaints.”

Since 2000, the number of rat complaints decreased from 4,415 to 3,521 last year.

One possible explanation for the drop is the District’s human population decreased by more than 18,000 from 2000 to 2004, according to Census Bureau estimates.

But city officials say the decrease in complaints is the result of public-awareness and enforcement campaigns that have made residents more aware of factors that breed rats.

The rats that have plagued the District are mostly Norway rats, or brown rats, that weigh about 11 ounces and are about 13 to 18 inches long. They can carry diseases such as bubonic plague, salmonellosis and trichinosis.

In 1999, D.C. officials called the “Rat Summit” for advice on how to reclaim the city’s parks and streets from the rodents.

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, followed the summit by declaring a war on rats in September 2000. City officials distributed sealable 4-foot, heavy-duty trash containers known as “super cans” to an estimated 75,000 buildings with three or fewer household units. And they began imposing tougher fines on restaurants and residences that attracted rats because of poorly stored garbage.

In fiscal 2005, the city’s Environmental Health Administration inspected 48,911 premises for rodent activity and issued 335 sanitation-violation notices to residents and businesses. The fines range from $75 for residents to at least $1,000 for businesses.

During the same period, the agency also issued 197 notices of abatement, which give a property owner 14 days to remedy a trash or waste situation that could lead to a rat problem.

Despite the increase in complaints in 2004, which officials attribute to a public- awareness campaign about how to report the rodents, rat eradicators say their efforts are winning the war.

They point to such areas as a playground at 17th and P streets in Northwest that once had about 60 to 80 rat burrows. Now, they say, the playground has maybe one or two.

“We think we’re doing a very good job as we look at the results of certain areas around the city,” said Peggy Keller, chief of the D.C. Department of Health’s Bureau of Community Hygiene. “Even when I’m walking around the city, I see less evidence of rodents in my daily activity.”

However, battles are still being fought in certain areas.

A parking lot at First and E streets in Northwest is an example of one of the city’s hot spots for rats because of overflowing trash bins from a nearby restaurant and litter that lines the burrows where rats make their homes, officials said.

Hundreds of cracks and holes dot the lot’s asphalt and gravel, evidence that thousands of rodents have taken up residence beneath the surface.

“We got big, super-rats every day,” said James Burton, deputy director for the Community for Creative Nonviolence, a homeless shelter that abuts the parking lot and gets regular visits from rodents. “These are king rats. They climb walls.”

The Rodent Control Division is responsible for rat complaints on public, city-owned space or at buildings with three or fewer household units. To treat such burrows, agency pest controllers place poison pellets in front of the holes or pump a lethal powder into the burrows.

Pest controllers then will cover the hole with dirt. If the hole is reopened upon their return, the process is repeated until the hole — and case — remains closed.

The District also is taking a lesson from New York City, which is holding a Rodent Control Academy for city workers because of a recent increase in rat complaints and exterminations.

The academy is run by Bobby Corrigan, former pest controller and world-renowned authority on rats, and is scheduled to be held in the District in April.

RATTING ON RATS

The District says fewer complaints about rats since 2000 prove heightened eradication efforts are working. Ward 5 had the most complaints in the past two years.

Total complaints logged manually by the D.C. Department of Health’s Rodent Control Division:

2000: 4,415

2001: 3,607

2002: 3,055

2003: 3,209

2004: 4,248

2005: 3,521

Complaints by ward for 2004 and 2005 (combined) taken by the city’s call center:

Ward 1: 1,203

Ward 2: 614

Ward 3: 410

Ward 4: 971

Ward 5: 1,307

Ward 6: 1,278

Ward 7: 457

Ward 8: 339

No specified ward: 108

Source: D.C. Department of Health

THE WASHINGTON TIMES


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