December 5, 2006
NYC's rat patrol and Edgar R. Butts
Sometimes I think the NY Times should stop doing analysis of the important events and developments happening all over the world, and just stick to investigation and detailed reporting of all the weird stuff that goes on right here in the city.
Today's article on the city's ongoing fight against rat infestation is the best example of this kind of local reporting. Pest complaints reached an all-time high last year, at 32,000. The city is trying to adopt more aggressive, preventive measures to fight rats, like keeping garbage inaccessible and clearing the debris where rats live, instead of just dumping loads of rat poison everywhere. A deputy for environmental health, who is named Edgar R. Butts and therefore might be my favorite of all the city's employees, said: “You can bring a trainload or boatload of rodenticide into the city. But as long as you have food and harborage, you’ll have rats.” I've seen a whole lot of "WARNING: Area Baited With Rodenticide" signs in the subway which never seem to be more recent than 2003, and the rats are starting to grow resistant to it anyway.
The article gives you an incredible amount of detail about the history of pest control in the city, the 19th century rat catchers (paid by the rat!), old federal CDC programs, the city council's "rat summits" in the Giuliani days. There are lots of anecdotes about the Bureau of Pest Control Services, which spends $8 million each year on rats, going to buildings where tenants have been complaining for months.
But my favorite part is when the intrepid Times reporter walks around the Bronx himself, and paints a vivid picture of the garbage that he sees, and apparently also rummages through: "Why the rats remain is no mystery, given the abundance of waste New Yorkers leave behind. In an alley next to an apartment building were two exposed trash cans. Inside one was an empty can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs, with a residue of sauce."
We've all seen rats scurrying around in the subway or in vacant lots, but take a guess as to the percentage of rental units with rodent infestations. Guess. Ready to get grossed out? 28.7 percent!!! Ew! If you don't have rats drinking your beer and gnawing your toothbrush, you're lucky.
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