NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The city was on target this month for a record year of rat complaints to its 311 hotline, exceeding the more than 24,000 last year.

As CBS2’s Jessica Schneider reported, the city has boosted the team that is tasked with the sole job of tracking rats.

The rat problem, of course, is old as the city itself. But some residents have said it is getting worse.

“They’re multiplying too fast for the city to do anything,” said Harlem resident Derrick Jefferson. “They could take over if they wanted to. I mean it’s sickening. It’s ridiculous.”

Under a plan code-named “Rat Reservoir,” inspectors from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have targeted specific communities in the Bronx and Manhattan with high complaints.

“We did comprehensive assessments of the neighborhood for rat activity, and then basically assigned a dedicated case manager to work with that neighborhood on outreach and education,” said Health Department scientist Caroline Bragdon.

Bragdon, the resident rat expert from the department, thinks the spike in complaints is likely due to the large piles of trash being left on the sidewalk after heavy snowfalls last winter, when garbage trucks were rerouted to handle snow removal instead.

Bragdon has expanded her inspection team to nearly 50, inspecting dozens of buildings across the city each month.

“When we go in to assess a neighborhood, we’re looking for all signs of rat activity — rat burrows, which are their nests; rat droppings; runways and rub marks, which are the paths that rats travel. We’re looking at gnaw marks or signs of damage,” Bragdon said.

If rats are found the Health Department removes the trash, sends out exterminators, and warns residents.

“In the order, it will say: ‘We found rat activity on your property. You have five days to remediate,’” Bragdon said.

Meanwhile, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has taken on the role of self-appointed rat czar, said more needs to be done.

“We have a rat crisis in the city. We need the Department of Health to get their act together. We need better protocols; more accountability,” Stringer said, “because rats are a real health issue.”

Recommendations for fighting rodent infestations include sealing cracks and holes, and putting trash in sealed containers. There is also the potential for fines.

But the Health Department admitted that no matter where the rodents roam, it is impossible to put a number on just how many rats call New York City home.

A Columbia University doctoral student using statistical analysis last year estimated the number of rats in the city at 2 million, but scientists and city officials said it is impossible to accurately estimate.

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