- - Sunday, January 7, 2018


Neither man nor rat gives quarter in their ancient war on each other. Neither side takes prisoners, and after all these years there’s no winner, though rats have survived. The District of Columbia, which has rats aplenty, is deploying a new and lethal weapon with the hope that springs eternal.

Dry ice, the frozen form of carbon dioxide, suffocates rats in their burrows.

The dry ice will augment, not replace, the standard rat poison the city uses, says Gerald Brown, program manager of the District’s rodent-control division. But it’s not even close to a nuclear option. Mr. Brown, who has been on rat patrol for 30 years and has a grudging respect for the enemy, calls it just “another tool in our toolbox.” The rats’ burrows, he tells The Washington Post, “become their graves.”

Calls to the city’s 311 phone line about rats are up sharply, with 3,286 complaints this fiscal year, up 64 percent from fiscal 2015. The city attributes the exploding rodent population boom in part to the rising human population. Man’s trash is a banquet for the rats and other vermin to feast upon. More people, more rats.

The recent relatively mild winters have been implicated as well, since one good thing about frigid temperatures is that they kill rats. The current cold snap that has gripped the region over the past several days, making man miserable, is making the rats even more miserable. (We find consolation where we can.)

The war on rats is a four-season campaign, and the city began deploying rat-proof, high-tech solar trash cans last summer.

The tightly sealed cans have solar panels built in to generate the electric power to compact the trash, and sensors monitor the volume of the refuse and transmit that information to the Department of Public Works so that trash-collection crews can know which bins need emptying.

In the hyper-partisan District of Columbia, there’s naturally no universal agreement that rats are bad and must die by any means necessary. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, isn’t pro-rat, exactly, but it’s against some weapons that work, and that includes dry ice. The bad-animal lobby concedes that dry ice is more “humane” than standard rat poison, which contains anti-coagulants that cause the rats to bleed to death internally. But “the only truly humane policy” to prevent rats from spreading is to control their food supplies, says Stephanie Bell, the “senior director of cruelty casework” for PETA.

Controlling the rat food supply does not necessarily include inviting a rat to dinner, but others beside PETA fret about being unkind to rats. After Boston successfully tested the efficacy of dry ice as a rat killer two years ago, and the District began using it as well, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a cease-and-desist order because it wasn’t duly registered as a method for controlling rats. With a new administration in town, the order was lifted in June. Jihad continues.

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