Rats, bed bugs have everyone itching


BY Aline Reynolds

In recent months, some unwanted neighbors have made their presence felt in some Lower Manhattan communities.

Stories of rat-infested city parks have surfaced on local news channels. Bedbugs, little blood-sucking critters typically about half a centimeter long — smaller than a pencil eraser — are reeking havoc not only in beds but in major retail outlets as well.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the city Department of Design and Construction, Con Edison, the Parks Department, the MTA, the Department of Sanitation, the Downtown Alliance, Southbridge Towers and Community Board 1, are pitching in to help counter the infestations. And elected officials, from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to Borough President Scott Stringer, have taken up the call to combat the problem.

Rats reeking havoc

Rats, a source of disease, are causing havoc in Lower Manhattan and Assembly Speaker Silver is calling for immediate action to be taken.

“This is a public health issue,” Silver said in a statement. “In certain areas, particularly near Fulton Street, the streets have been literally overrun with rats since construction and repair projects began earlier this year.”

“I want to assure local residents that I am working with the city to ensure that they implement a detailed plan of action to help control the rat population,” he continued.

Per Silver’s request, officials from the NYC Health Department toured the area by foot, subsequently making several recommendations to correct the rodent problem. The Department advised that construction sites and rat burrows, such as sewers, be baited, and that basins be regularly cleaned. It also suggested that trash at work site areas be regularly disposed of and that garbage bags, feasting ground for rats, aren’t left on curbsides for long. The Department additionally advised the use of harder-to-open trash cans – ones that are less accessible to rodents – and power washers to clean sidewalks and other areas.

Community member Felicia Dellolio, who lives on Gold Street, regularly sees rats scurrying around her apartment building.

“I waved my left hand to the guard, indicating to open the inside door…so I could run in,” she said.

Her disabled husband, who is in a wheelchair, is frightened to use the ramp, where she says the rats often run up and down.

“You kind of feel you’ll get trapped,” Dellolio said. “They’ll go for you if they’re cornered.”

Dellolio is one of many residents in the Financial District and near the South Street Seaport who said they’ve witnessed an increase in the rat population.

Residents at Southbridge Towers said increased extermination has kept the rodents from going into the buildings. But they’re infiltrating the sidewalks, causing pedestrians to stay off the streets when they can.

“We’re concerned because they’re carriers of disease, they’re a danger to residents and small children, and to people’s pets,” said Southbridge resident Paul Hovitz.

“My wife is afraid to walk certain ways in the [South Street Seaport neighborhood],” said John Fratta, chair of Community Board 1’s Seaport/Civic Center Committee, who attended Speaker Sheldon Silver’s meeting. “I see them every time I come into my building.”

On one night Fratta counted six rats scurrying from Fulton to Gold Streets.

The residents all said that they haven’t seen improvements thus far.

“Residents should not have to fear for themselves, their children and their pets while out walking in their own neighborhood,” Hovitz said.

“And they don’t pay rent,” he added.

Bed bugs everywhere

The City Council has allocated $500,000 toward consulting and training city residents on bed bugs, in addition to a new web portal that “will provide step-by-step instructions on how to prevent, confirm and manage an infestation, and offer information and training videos for landlords and pest management professionals.” The portal is expected to be up and running by early 2011.

There were 2,649 residential complaints about bed bugs in Manhattan alone this fiscal year, up from 103 in 2004, according to the Housing Preservation and Development Corporation, which responds to and tracks 3-1-1 complaints about the little pests.

The City created a Bed Bug Advisory Board last year to come up with recommendations for controlling the bed bug epidemic across the city. The Board suggested that building owners or residents track and report bed bug infestations and dispose bed bug infested items. It also suggested that urban pest management professionals and residents be trained and educated on prevention techniques as a well as how to handle bed bugs after they’ve been identified.

There are several preventative measures one can take to avoid bed bugs from creeping into your bedroom. Gil Bloom, president of Standard Pest Management ana member of the advisory board, suggested closing ceiling gaps or wall cracks with sealants and placing insect monitor traps throughout an apartment. When returning from a trip, he said clothes should be washed immediately before placing them in drawers or closets, and to brush and clean all suitcases as well. Building management officers should communicate such tips to residents in annually held meetings, he said.

Building superintendents and handymen should know what to do in the event of a bed bug attack, Bloom said.

“Ideally, mattresses should be wrapped in plastic and should be taken out of the building as quickly as possible,” and the elevators should be regularly cleaned, he said.

Residents aren’t the only ones suffering from bed bugs. Abercrombie & Fitch’s South Street Seaport location and its sister store Hollister, in SoHo, were both forced to shut down for a few days in early July due to bed bug infestations.

“The key thing is to be preventative,” said Timothy Wong, technical director of M&M Environmental, a pest control company that helped the stores remove its contents in order to be safely fumigated.

“You shouldn’t have to get to the level whereby you have to close a store down before a major holiday [July 4th] in the middle of the summer,” he noted.

Though the little bloodthirsty creatures do bite, and cause itchy welts to form on one’s skin, they’re not seen as a health hazard like rats.

“Clinically, [bed bug infestation] is not a health issue, as they do not transmit disease,” said Bloom. “But do they disrupt your life and possibly your sleep? Yes.”