UPPER WEST SIDE — The city is making the Upper West Side its next testing ground in the fight against rats — employing a special material in neighborhood tree pits to keep rodents from burrowing, city officials said.
With vermin popping up at local playgrounds and even the Fairway supermarket, City Councilwoman Gale Brewer called on the city's Department of Health and the Parks Department to see for themselves the level of infestation in the neighborhood.
They discovered that the neighborhood's tree-lined blocks are also home to hordes of rats that love burrowing in the soil of tree pits, making them ground zero in the war on rodents, explained Caroline Bragdon, a pest control specialist at the DOH.
As part of the new pilot program, block associations will have the option to fill tree pits that have active rat nests with a type of non-toxic material used in gardening and construction known as Stalite, which will act as a barrier to rats' burrowing.
"Rats didn’t like burrowing or nesting in this material," Bragdon said.
The department reiterated that the material is not a pesticide, but rather prevents rats from nesting.
Stalite's website explains that by putting slate through a kiln at high temperatures the company is able to produce "a durable, lighter, non-toxic, porous granular that is sterile and environmentally inert."
Starting in September, the Parks Department will mix Stalite into the soil of 30 tree pits in the neighborhood at no cost to the block associations. The Parks and Health Departments will then monitor the results.
"We’re hoping this will work," Bragdon said, acknowledging she's unsure whether the remedy will be effective. "We're going to see."
Block associations that attended an information session on the pilot program Monday will have first priority in participating in the initiative, she said.
During the session, held at Community Board 7's office on West 87th Street, neighbors spoke of a rat "invasion" spurred by the fact that residents leave piles of garbage on the street overnight before early-morning pickup, creating a feast for rodents, which only need an ounce of food a day to survive.
"You can watch them parade through [Riverside] Park day and night," said resident Phylis Lesante. "They’re just overwhelming our neighborhood,"
While she hoped the pilot would work, Bragdon said cutting off rats' food source is also essential to curbing the infestation.
"If you can get an entire block to participate in an effort to put garbage out in the morning instead of night, we can show that you can reduce the number of rats in the neighborhood," she said.
On Aug. 22, Bragdon will speak with building owners, superintendent and managers as part of a "Rat Academy" convened by Brewer at Board 7's offices at 9:30 a.m. Spanish translation will be available.