City’s rat attack now includes hand-held computers

By Lincoln Anderson

A recent forum on rats in the West Village brought out a small but concerned group of local residents who were told repeatedly that there is only one way to control the relentless rodents — cleanliness.

Rats were a problem on Morton St. several months ago, and a meeting with city officials was held then. The meeting two weeks ago with three members of the Mayor’s Rat Task Force was a follow-up, but also a sort of educational session, a “Rats 101,” as it were.

Rick Simeone, director of Pest Control Services for the Department of Health, said the city is going high-tech to try to rout the rodents. Agency personnel will be armed with hand-held computers, allowing them to rapidly download rat stats.

“We’ll be able to produce rat maps,” he explained, “with sites of rat activity, which will be accessible through the Google ‘rat portal.’ ” The portal will also offer information on how to keep rats from entering an apartment or vacant lot and how to find a good exterminator.

The city warns a landlord once about a rat infestation on his or her property, and, if there is no response, then baits the property and bills the landlord, Simeone said.

“Rats are considered a public nuisance, not a health hazard,” he noted. “You’re not going to remove a landlord because of rats.”

On trash cans, Simeone said, “There is no such thing as a rodent-proof container. There is rodent-resistant. … They can chew through cement. They can chew through wood. Their teeth continue to grow — they like to grind.” He said heavy-duty plastic bins work, somewhat.

“They only need an ounce to live on per day,” he pointed out. “It doesn’t mean they won’t eat more.”

Ellen Peterson Lewis, a Greenwich St. activist, said she often sees “debris on the sidewalk” in front of City-As-School on Clarkson St. after garbage trucks make their pickups.

John Frawley, Sanitation District 2 supervisor, said the collectors do their best, but, “The liquid spills out of the truck — you cannot control that. When the hopper goes up, the spillage occurs.”

Simeone said public schools have been doing much better lately with their garbage. But Frawley added that schools do put out a lot of garbage throughout the day, since they serve breakfasts as well as lunches. And schools are not allowed to keep garbage inside overnight, so they have it tough, he noted.

Simeone assured he would have someone take a look at the location.

Rats also are attracted to City-As-School because of dirt pits lining its entrance, Frieda Bradlow noted. Rats burrow in tree pits and any dirt, pest expert Simeone noted.

Bradlow said “in-vessel composting” is needed — “for rodent control, as well as for cleanliness in the area, as well as it’s environmentally sound.” She said the mayor’s task force should identify a major composting site, such as a pier. Simeone suggested Bradlow get local politicians behind the idea.

“We don’t have a problem with them,” she assured.

Regarding construction, it only flushes vermin out into the neighborhood if there was already an active rat site there, the officials said.

“We have a lot-cleaning program — but there’s not too many vacant lots anymore,” Frawley noted of Sanitation District 2, which (like Community Board 2) covers between 14th and Canal Sts., east of Fourth Ave./Bowery.

Ralph Musolino, supervisor of Parks Districts 1 and 2, said Washington Square Park formerly had an awful rat problem, but not anymore since the renovation.

“Preconstruction, you had to run through the park not to run into a rat,” Musolino said. “A beautiful park seems to attract less litter.”

The discussion shifted to Chinatown and Canal St. Ed Ma, a Community Board 2 member, said tourists are the biggest problem, absent-mindedly tossing their food wrappers and garbage on the ground all over the place. Ma suggested starting a “rewarding system” to recognize merchants for cleanliness.

“I think the reward is getting rid of the rats,” Simeone said.