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UWS 'Rat Academy' Draws Concerned Residents to Fight Rodent Scourge

By Emily Frost | August 17, 2012 1:59pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is intimately familiar with some of his more unsavory Upper West Side neighbors.

"I live on 71st Street. The rats don't scurry," he explained. "They walk right up to you and say, 'How are you Mr. Borough President?'"

Addressing a crowd of residents and building superintendents Wednesday night, Stringer told the group that the rat infestation problem on the Upper West Side is worse than ever.

"They have dug in to our community," he said. 

After receiving hundreds of calls on the issue from constituents, as well as hosting two Upper West Side town hall meetings where rats were the top complaint, Stringer joined with City Councilwoman Gale Brewer to hold a "Rat Academy" on best practices for ridding streets and apartments of the pests.

Stringer acknowledged that part of the problem was a lack of city resources devoted to effective waste management. Most of New York City's street trash cans are open metal containers, which provide easy access for the vermin.

"We need more garbage cans and more resources at the Department the Health," Stringer noted.

Brewer has allocated $50,000 in next year's budget for a pilot program in Verdi Square involving solar-powered trash cans, in an effort to stem the rat problem in the park that her office called "significant."

Made by a company called Big Belly Solar, the trash cans are metal and include a hinged door that opens and closes, keeping rats out, as well as a solar-powered compactor that reduces the need for pickups. A sensor automatically registers when the bin is full and wirelessly calls for a pickup.
When Philadelphia adopted them across the city, it reportedly saved $900,000 in the first year. Brewer hopes the new bins will not only combat the rat problem, but reduce trash overflow and save money. 
Residents' feeling that the rat population has exploded is warranted, said Caroline Bragdon from the Department of Health. Rats can birth up to 76 pups a year, and rodents can also gnaw through anything softer than steel and fit through any space larger than a quarter, the size of their skull, she explained.

The city's robust dog and cat population is not help either, Bragdon added. 

"Rats will eat dog feces — that's good nutrition for them," she said. 

After outlining steps residents and block associations can take — including limiting access to food or garbage, plugging up holes and cracks, and thoroughly washing areas where rats have left a trail of pheromones to communicate with each other — Bragdon turned the conversation to local businesses. 

Joseph Bolanos, the presidents of the 76th Street block association Landmark 76, wanted to know what could be done about restaurants and mobile food vendors that leave large grease stains on the sidewalks that rats feed on. 

Bragdon said that while the city has a mobile food-vending inspection unit, "there's no law that says restaurants can't leave a nasty grease stain." Instead, community members should fight back by talking with the owner or taking their business elsewhere, she advised. 

Speaking on behalf of the DOH, Bragdon said the department does not encourage the use of rodenticide and that it "should never be your first line of defense," acknowledging that rodenticide has been the cause of local hawk deaths and illnesses in the past year.

Rat bait, Bragdon explained, is not a holistic method that kills entire nests. It kills rats one by one while others continue to breed, she said.

"Most rat baits are not delicious," Bragdon explained. "If you have the option ot eat pizza, you're not going to choose the granola-tasting poison."

However, if residents do choose to use rat poison, it's illegal for anyone but a certified professional to administer it and can sicken pets, people and wildlife if not used carefully.