Corruption investigations are the rage these days in New York State.
Investigations into bribery at the NYPD; the business dealings of a former member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inner circle; some murky real estate deals in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, and the mayor’s fundraising activities.
Then there is the saga of the rat bags.
Rat bags are made in America by the heroes of JAD Corporation, a maintenance supply company based in College Point.
The manufacturers set out to solve the classic NYC problem: rats ripping their way through your garbage bags before the other unsung heroes, NYC’s Strongest, whisk them away and out of sight.
The company developed garbage bags “infused with a mint-based odor that repels rodents,” says Roland Riopelle, a lawyer representing the business. The bags are EPA-registered as rodent repellant and were tested on rats, according to Riopelle.
They are “the highest-quality mint essential oils,” according to the company’s website, which says that the bags have been found, through “rigorous testing” to naturally “keep pesky wildlife away.”
A few years later, Mint-X was born.
The bags are sold to individual homeowners, and also used by a number of New Jersey housing authorities. But purveyors of this panacea had difficulty selling their invention to the city.
They had some success with the Central Park Conservancy, which used the bags for some of their garbage needs between 2007 and the spring of 2015. The conservancy stopped ordering the bags due to the success of the 2013 redesign of Central Park garbage cans whose spiral design helped keep out rats, according to a spokeswoman.
The New York City Housing Authority has bought other products from JAD for years. The agency spent $1.2 million in Mint-X bags, but hasn’t ordered them since 2012. The bags were used in unventilated compactor rooms and the minty smell rankled maintenance workers.
The company ultimately secured a parks department trial contract for the Mint-X bags in 2015, after a meeting with the mayor. It was conspicuous timing — the company's CEO had just made two $50,000 donations to the mayor’s political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, which isn’t bound by campaign finance laws.
A federal investigation is looking into that coincidence, one of a number of contributions followed by actions which give the impression of a pay-to-play system.
Whither the rat bag?
Ethics aside, the real question is: Do they work?
Would cynical New Yorkers take the rodents' bargain and forgive money changing hands to open a door or two if it keeps the rats firmly away?
Some rodent specialists reached by amNew York expressed caution about embracing bags, however minty, as a sure-fire rat blocker outside of other preventative measures such as good sanitation.
Roger Baldwin, a wildlife management specialist at UC Davis, said "repellents don't generally work very well."
Richard Ostfeld, a scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, was also not aware of any scientific consensus on mint as a repellent.
Mice and rats are “extraordinarily good at processing information about smells,” Ostfeld says. If there’s food inside a plastic bag, they’d smell that along with the mint, which Ostfeld said might not be a sufficient deterrent.
A number of satisfied customers say that something is working with the bags.
Vito Pullara, maintenance director at Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan, says there was a “dramatic reduction” after Stuy Town contracted to use the bags. He says they had a major problem with rats beforehand, to the point that rats would jump out of the bags when maintenance workers went to collect the garbage from exterior cans.
Mike Pacyna, a supervising maintenance repairer at the Bayonne Housing Authority in New Jersey, calls the bags minty-fresh and great to use, and not much more expensive than regular bags. He says they seem to keep rodents away, though Bayonne didn’t have an enormous problem with the pests. Their neighbors, however, in rat-infested, backroom-dealing NYC?
“I’m sure New York could use the bags more than we could.”
This is amExpress, the conversation starter for New Yorkers. Subscribe at amny.com/amexpress.