Pest worker cuts could unleash rat 'crisis' in NYC
A gnawing problem worrying New Yorkers is the rise in rodent infestations that rat experts fear will hit “crisis mode” when the weather gets warmer.
“There’s going to be a major epidemic during the summer with the rodents,” said Rosemarie Vasquez, a former city pest control aide.
Last May, the city health department laid off 75 percent of its pest control staff — or 63 workers — leaving elected officials and residents to worry that the voracious vermin can’t be adequately controlled without more help.
“They’re bigger than kittens. We’re going to have to get BB guns,” said Alicia Barksdale, who heads her Harlem building’s tenants association.
Citywide, the 311 hotline received about 10,500 rodent complaints in 2010, up more than 5 percent from 2009. In 2011, complaints are up 9 percent through the beginning of March compared to the same period a year ago.
Fueled by reports of rats in foreclosed homes in Queens and around construction sites on the East Side and Harlem, city officials told amNewYork Thursday that the city’s cuts are having an impact on quality of life.
“No New Yorker wants to see our great city turn into rat city,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village).
Elected officials already have written letters to the city asking for restoration of some of the pest control workers.
“We need more resources, not less, in the war against rodents in New York,” demanded Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
“We’re almost at a crisis mode,” added Fitz Reid, president of Local 768 Health Services Employees, which represents pest control aides. He argues that his staff is also a revenue source because they clean up garbage-filled lots and fine errant property owners, resulting in about $6 million in fees annually to the city.
The health department said Thursday that the layoffs had “no impact” on how it responds to rat complaints because the Pest Control Bureau is still doing its core duties, including inspections and exterminations. The department has also taken a new approach against the vermin by inspecting whole neighborhoods simultaneously and then returning every eight to 12 months.
After seeing positive results in the Bronx in December, the department said it’s “confident that we will successfully reduce rat infestations.”