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Vol.26, No. 09 Nov. 13, 2000

Columbia Hosts First Rat Summit; Experts Seek to Control City’s Rodent Population

By Lauren Marshall

In addition to its reputation as the cultural capital of the world, New York City has gained a new title—the Rat Capital.

With a rodent control problem that is nearing epidemic proportions, the city took action this week. The first all-day Rat Summit, sponsored by the New York City Council, Columbia and the New York Daily News, was held in Lerner Hall on Nov. 30. More than two dozen city officials, public health experts and biologists as panelists came to discuss the problem and possible solutions before a crowd of more than 300 concerned residents.

“We need to have a sustainable solution, not a stopgap, but a solution that is ongoing,” said City Council Member Bill Perkins, District 9, chair of the City’s Council Select Committee on Pest Control and organizer of the event. “This is a very important summit because it has brought a greater nonpartisan, grass roots focus to the city’s rat problem. Awareness of the problem is the beginning of the process,” said Perkins.

The four-legged problem knows no boundaries. All five boroughs are reporting increases in rat populations despite the city’s increase in inspections, extermination and other safeguards, such as the installation of new trash compactors this year.

The summit was a call to action on the part of city leaders. “Don’t just look at what your government can do for you. Government can do a lot, but we need the people,” said Deputy Mayor Joseph Lhota, increasingly known as the “Rat Czar.” “ New York City has the biggest, fattest rats because the people feed them well.”

City government has already moved toward a solution with Perkins’ proposed legislation requiring baiting and trapping before foundation or earthwork, rat-proof receptacles for plastic bags containing trash and the implementation of a testing protocol for rat-borne diseases. But speakers at the summit urged the public to do its part, as well.

“ New York City has so many people, so many restaurants, so much trash. This lifestyle that we choose has an impact on our environment,” said Bruce A. Colvin, a biologist and keynote speaker.

People should modify their habits, said Colvin. Consider putting trash in a metal trash can rather than in plastic bags, which puts food scraps a mere rip of the bag away from hungry rats. Also think twice before putting breadcrumbs out for birds and cat food out for strays.

Institutions should also pull their weight, said Colvin.

•There should be regular review of structural integrity of buildings.

•Trash should be emptied before dark.

•Maintenance workers and students should be educated on where to put trash.

•Landscape should be planned and shrubs maintained.

Columbia’s Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs and Director of Community Affairs Larry Dais added, “It is appropriate that Columbia has joined its neighbors in this war against rats. We are happy to have had the opportunity to host this event and, in support of the city-wide rat solution, will continue our efforts to control the local rat population.”

In addition to increases in the population and trash production, construction is also a potential problem. “Construction sites are wonderful playgrounds for rats,” said Colvin. “To control the problem before it starts, rodent control and a sanitation plan should be in place prior to construction and continue throughout a project. This includes the application of poison and traps and trash maintenance on the site.”

To have an effective program, you have to have momentum and an event like this demonstrates a common ground shared by government leaders and community. Once the problem is recognized, we can move forward and come up with a sustainable plan,” added Colvin.