By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
LOWER EAST SIDE — If New York City is the unofficial rat capital, then consider Chinatown its statehouse.
So says Manuel "Junior" Medina, an exterminator for M&M Pest Control on Orchard Street, whose work has taken him into some of the grimiest, most rodent-infested basements and back alleys in the neighborhood.
"Chinatown is pretty much a harborage area where rats can just come over and have food to eat," said Medina, 26, noting that the neighborhood's myriad restaurants and fish markets make Chinatown a particularly delectable attraction for the critters.
He's noticed a sizable increase in the number of restaurant clients seeking his services, due mostly to the fact that the city's Department of Health has been cracking down on offending eateries by posting letter grades in the establishments' windows.
"It's unfortunate down there on the Lower East Side," Medina added of the area, which counts the second-highest rate of rats out of the dozen community districts comprising the borough, according to recent data from the Health Department.
"I literally see it as a no-win situation, because people are always going to throw their garbage outside. There's no way around that."
The pest problem is so serious — and, apparently, compelling — that filmmakers from the Discovery Channel followed Medina for an upcoming segment for the network's new series "Human Planet," which explores man's relationship with nature and their ability to survive in extreme environments.
It's fitting that camera crews chose to spotlight him for the show, given some of the situations Medina has found himself in during the last three years on the job.
"You see a lot of wild things at nighttime," he said of his usual working hours, when the restaurants close up and rats and other vermin run free.
"I've seen rats knocking over plates, jumping out of garbage cans. It's just wild dealing with this stuff at night. You feel like you're in their domain a little bit."
On one occasion, when Medina was working a job at a restaurant on East Broadway, he said a monstrous, 14-inch rat stuck in a trap nearly got the best of him.
"As I'm trying to grab it, the rodent actually ripped the other part of his body off the trap to try to bite my hand," he said, noting that the plus-sized pest shrieked as loud as a parrot.
Combine that with the city slashing dozens of pest-control jobs, as well as a 9-percent jump in the amount of overall rodent complaints so far this year, and Medina is keeping plenty busy — especially on the Lower East Side.
"Downtown Manhattan is really dirty as far as infestation, garbage," he said. "It's really bad down there."
But dealing creepy crawlers day in and day out hasn't necessarily made Medina immune to his enemies.
"I've had situations where I'm setting up, thinking the coast is clear, and out of nowhere they come right in front of you, and you just jump," he said of the sometimes mild-seeming jobs he's worked that have turned into nightmares.
"Even to this day, you can never get used to that sensation of getting caught off guard by these guys. They can sit there quietly and wait for the perfect time to make their move. That's what sometimes has me jumping. You can never get used to that."
"Human Planet" airs on Sun., April 24, at 9 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.