Rodents winning NY rat race, but humans fight back

June 15, 2014 by Verena Dobnik

(AP)—Ines Moore stirs awake nearly every night to an unmistakable, skin-crawling sound: rats skittering around her apartment in the dark.

Sticky traps scattered around the tidy, fifth-floor walkup yield as many as three a night, what she believes is just a fraction of the invading army that makes her feel under siege.

"I feel good in the United States—except for this. Here, in my home," said Moore, a Dominican immigrant who can't afford to leave her rent-controlled apartment in northern Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood.

Her neighborhood is among the most rat-infested in New York City, along with West Harlem, Chinatown, the Lower East Side and the South Bronx. They are the focus of the city's latest effort to attack a rat population that some experts estimate could be double that of the Big Apple's 8.4 million people.

Starting next month, the city's 45 inspectors will be bolstered by nine new employees of a pilot program to tackle the vermin in chronically infested neighborhoods where rats have resisted repeated efforts to eradicate them.

Specific targets are rat reservoirs such as parks, sewers, dumping areas and subways where they congregate and breed. The idea is to tamp down the population where it is strongest and keep it from spreading.

"Rats burrow and live in colonies," Health Commissioner Mary Bassett told the City Council at a hearing last month. "I'll sometimes imagine when I walk through a park, if I could have sort of a 'rat vision,' there are all these tunnels under there that are occupied by rats. And from there the rats fan out."

Financed with $611,000 in the current city budget, inspectors will work with neighborhood associations, community boards, elected officials and building owners to plug up holes and put poison in rodent tunnels.

For years, inspectors responding to complaints on the city's telephone hotline have already been searching for rats and their telltale signs: burrows, droppings, claw marks and gnawed holes. Besides traps and poison, the city also has used contraceptives to curb the rats.

New York's Rat Information Portal—or, appropriately, RIP—is an interactive online map that tracks Health Department violations. Spots marked red are deemed to be rat-infested; those in yellow have passed inspection.

The South Bronx around Yankee Stadium has the dubious distinction of being the city's most rat-infested neighborhood, according to figures from 2012, the most recent available. Inspectors gave a failing grade for infestation to at least 13 percent of more than 3,000 locations inspected in that area.

Washington Heights came in at 12 percent of inspected locations, West Harlem at 10 percent and the Lower East Side and adjacent Chinatown at nearly 9 percent.

Rats can carry and spread diseases, bite and trigger asthma attacks. In May, a 4-year-old boy died after ingesting rat poison in a Bronx homeless shelter.

It's impossible to tally the exact number of rats in New York, says the Rev. Joel Grassi, a Baptist minister and professional exterminator.

"As long as there are human beings in New York City, there will be rats, because they live off human garbage—that's their No. 1 thing," says Grassi, adding that the best way to manage the rat population is to eliminate their food supply.

"It's just part of everyday life," says Jasmine Guzman, a store manager whose two young sons happily run around their Washington Heights apartment across the hall from Moore's, after the family cleans up rat droppings.

"My 3-year-old son says, 'It's OK, Mommy, they're just looking for some stinky food,'" she says with a laugh.

At night, rats run in droves in front of their building, "and we run past them to the front door when we get home," says Guzman, adding that a rat ran through her mother's legs and under her baby's stroller one day.

The company that manages the property says it will schedule extermination and plans to install metal fencing plus metal seals to close rat holes inside apartments.

For now, the rats' nightly visits to Moore's apartment continue.

"I'm angry," Moore says. "We're all human beings and we all deserve to live decently."

Explore further: NYC effort put rats on the run

Related Stories

NYC effort put rats on the run

September 20, 2012
(HealthDay)—A rat control strategy launched in the Bronx, N.Y., led to a 54 percent reduction in the number of properties with signs of rat activity, a new federal report says.

Study reveals rats show regret, a cognitive behavior once thought to be uniquely human

June 8, 2014
New research from the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota reveals that rats show regret, a cognitive behavior once thought to be uniquely and fundamentally human.

Researchers build robot rat to induce stress in lab animals (w/ Video)

February 13, 2013
(Phys.org)—Researchers at Waseda University in Japan have built a robot rat they call WR-4, and whose purpose isto induce stress in lab rats. In studying the impact of stress inflicted on the lab rats, the researchers hope ...

Recommended for you

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...

Best of Last Year – The top Medical Xpress articles of 2016

December 23, 2016
(Medical Xpress)—It was a big year for research involving overall health issues, starting with a team led by researchers at the UNC School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health who unearthed more evidence that ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

bertibus
5 / 5 (1) Jun 16, 2014
The quickest and easiest way to stop rats from entering an apartment is plugging holes with steel wool (unless the hole is too big of course). As soon as the rat's whiskers touch the steel, it'll move away. It's more effective than concrete.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.