BY NICK BUGLIONE
In the alleyways, and dark corners of Queens thrives a population six times the size of the borough’s human population, and local construction is moving them out into the streets.
Though the City Council’s Select Committee on Pest Control will not have exact figures until their planned rat census is finished, they currently estimate that for every city resident there are at least six rats living and reproducing locally. They add that a female rat can produce 285 offspring in a year and that the populations being seen at Queens construction sites are not imported and not a result of the construction. They are simply being displaced from their homes by the building work, and coming out into the daylight of Queens life.
Rego Park Rodents
Among one of the worst areas of rat infestation in Queens, recent weeks have seen complaints pouring in from Rego Park residents who have spotted large numbers of rats as local construction drives the rodents from their natural habitats.
“Where you have disruption due to construction, you are going to have a rat problem because they get displaced,” explained Community Board 6 District Manager Kathleen Riley.
According to Riley the ongoing construction on the LIE is the main cause of the sightings, which is also augmented by the presence of food and garbage from local stores.
“I understand the subway station there is also having a problem,” said Riley, referring to the 63rd Drive Station. Riley added that the rat problem primarily extends along 63rd Drive and 63rd Road, from 98th Street to Queens Boulevard.
Jay Parker, owner of Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen in Rego Park, commented, “We’ve been here 56 years and we’ve never seen anything like this.”
The majority of the community’s complaints have come into Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz’s office. “We weren’t getting calls that people saw a rat, we were getting calls that people saw 40 rats, someone said they saw 60,” said Matthew Farrell, spokesman for Koslowitz.
“It’s a situation, and I know it’s a problem all over the city, but here there are people that have had sightings of many rats and some are the size of cats,” said Koslowitz.
The Health Department investigated the situation at the end of June and “found signs of rodents,” according to spokesman John Gadd.
“On Friday, June 30 the department conducted extensive extermination activities,” said Gadd. The areas were baited and rat burrows were sealed. Department agents also issued a citation to the Mobil Station on Queens Boulevard between 63rd Road and 63rd Drive for having an excess of tires — a popular rat hiding spot — on its property.
“The Health Department has since returned to the site to conduct follow up inspections,” said Gadd.
Rats In the Rest of the Borough
Members within a number of Queens’ community boards, representing neighborhoods all over the borough, are reporting increases in rat infestation.
“We’re facing [a rat problem] by the construction site in Flushing Memorial Park,” said Community Board 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman, noting that a man who periodically leaves food for birds is compounding the issue. “It’s affecting the park because of this person feeding the birds.”
“We have a problem every year with rats under the boardwalk,” said Community 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska, who said beach-goers’ trash ultimately winds up under the boardwalk.
According to Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12, rats are prevalent all over southeast Queens.
“We have rat problems where there are vacant lots and overgrown weeds,” said Reddick, who added that some homeowners’ failure to keep their yards clear of debris has added to the dilemma.
Meanwhile in Astoria, on 12th Street, another rat problem prevails. “They’re going to construct five three-family homes there,” said Community Board 1 District Manager George Delis, and the construction is driving the rats from their homes. Delis said that despite contacting the proper authorities, the rat situation has continued.
The City’s Response
In response to the growing rat problem, New York City Council is forging a bill that will make it mandatory for builders to clear a site of all rats before breaking ground for construction.
With construction on the rise — leading to a massive disruption and displacement of rats — the Council feels it should be the responsibility of the workers to make an effort to curb the rodent population of an area before beginning a project.
Councilman Bill Perkins, chairman of the New York City Council Select Committee on Pest Control, said the bill would make it mandatory that all construction involving ground-breaking be preceded by a survey of the area’s rat population followed by extensive rat abatement.
“Part of the problem has been that we’ve had a very passive, rather than aggressive, approach to this,” said Perkins. “The rat population is growing exponentially, but we have the ability to get it under control.”
Formed on May 10, The Select Committee on Pest Control will hold another hearing on the elimination of rodents at City Hall on July 24.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani recently announced that his special task force, which includes representatives from the departments of Health, Sanitation, Parks, Design and Construction, Housing and Transportation, will intensify efforts to eradicate rats from the city. The task force currently meets twice a week.
“I look forward to working with the mayor’s task force to create a comprehensive interagency Czar-like response to the overwhelming rat problem in our city,” said Perkins. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that our communities are in a state of terror.” Some estimates indicate that there are six rats to every New Yorker, though Perkins said the proportion is more likely to be over nine to one.
Perkins added that the Committee is planning on conducting a scientific rat census to get a more accurate number.
The Health Risks
“In New York City [rats] are more of a nuisance then a health hazard,” said Health Department spokesman John Gadd, despite the rodents’ notorious reputation as disease carriers. Nevertheless, Gadd explained that the department is working hard toward controlling the rat population and has allotted over $13 million of its budget toward pest control.
“We’re setting the tone for an all out neighborhood effort,” said Gadd, noting that support from the community is paramount in controlling the pests. “Prevention is the key.”
Yet in places where rats are already prevalent, Health Department officials are conducting exterminations—which entails the sealing off of burrows and the baiting of areas with rat poison.
According to Gadd, the department currently uses several different substances to kill rodents, all which take effect two to three days after ingestion to ensure public safety.
“For public safety, you don’t want to have a product that works too quickly,” said Gadd, explaining that in the event of accidental ingestion, a slower poison will allow for a child or pet to receive medical treatment. “In any case of course where exterminations are conducted there are signs which are posted advising residents that bait has been placed.”
Gadd also said that “every effort is made to place bait where rats will get it and others won’t.”
Keep Rats Out of Your House
Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and it’s also a key component in preventing rats from invading your home, said Aaron Kopeo, an exterminator from Target Exterminating in Woodside. Kopeo said keeping all garbage cans tightly sealed, and eliminating any garbage lying around is half the battle in pest control.
If you see rats in your neighborhood:
The New York City Council Select Committee on Pest Control recommends that you contact your local council member. He or she will in turn notify the proper authorities.
To Stop Rats From Moving In:
Remove all debris from backyards, like tires, wood or other rubbish that might provide hiding places for rats.
Eliminate the presence of animal foods in the yard at night, when rodent feeding is the heaviest.
Eliminate all cavities or openings a half inch or larger that might allow a rat access into your house.
“Sanitation is very important,” Kopeo said. He also added that it is important to remove all debris from backyards, like tires, wood or other rubbish that might provide hiding places for rats.
Homeowners with pets should also eliminate the presence of animal foods at night, when rodent feeding is the heaviest.
Telltale signs of rat infestation include droppings, tracks, gnaw marks, burrow holes, urine stains and rodent sounds.
“Once a rat problem is found, the best thing to do is call an exterminator,” said Kopeo. He added that rat traps and poison must be put in strategic places where the rats dwell, which can only be done after a professional inspection is performed.
While it is not always feasible, eliminating all cavities or openings that might allow a rat access into your house, usually any hole a half inch or larger, can be very effective in preventing a rodent problem from developing.