Rats on the march in Brooklyn — Update

September 10, 2012 By Mary Frost
Photo by Mary Frost
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Once again, New York City is in the middle of a rat outbreak, and Brooklyn – with its constant construction and surging population – is getting hammered.

“One brazenly ran right across in front of me on the Rose Walk just south of the Post Office about three weeks ago,” Concord Village resident Linda Collins said Monday. “Little girls were screaming — it was during the day!”

Another woman, who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant and wants to remain anonymous, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “My roommates and I have a small cat, which caught a rat almost her size in the house. It wasn’t quite dead. One of my roommates had to take it outside and drop a brick on it and put it put of its misery.”

Even in tony Brooklyn Heights the repugnant rodents show no fear. One longtime resident of Montague Terrace said he had recently observed rats scampering from the bushes at the entrance to the Promenade after dark. “My wife and I pulled up to the front of our building in our car, “ he added,” and two rats ran in front of the car. One turned back into the bushes, the other actually crossed Montague Terrace. My wife was afraid to get out of the car until I walked around to check that they were gone.”

A resident of 57 Montague Street, located directly across from the Promenade entrance, also reported seeing rats near the over-flowing wire garbage receptacle provided there by the Parks Department. “I had always heard that in New York City, no matter where you might be, there are rats or roaches within 15 feet of you, “ he said. “ But I assumed that meant they were cowering in the dark walls and floors of buildings. Now, they seem bold enough to run about outdoors where people are plentiful.”

Just as Brooklyn is back, so are the rats. Joggers flee from them in Cadman Plaza Park. Residents near the Barclay’s Center arena complain about a “rat tsunami.” Park Slope residents describe rats in the garbage on Sixth Avenue. After reports of rats running across platforms and through trains, the MTA is removing garbage cans from platforms to cut their food supply.

Pedestrians thought the rats scampering across the grass near the Supreme Court building in Downtown Brooklyn earlier this week were squirrels because they were so carefree. “Those are rats?” one man said as he backed away, holding his daughter’s hand.

“I’m not surprised,” said Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association. Stanton said she has gotten complaints about rats at the north end of Cadman Plaza Park and also along Columbia Heights.

“It’s a huge challenge for the Parks Department to prevent the rats entering the parks given the friendly environment the parks provide. It’s a fact of nature.”

On the city Department of Health’s Rat Inspection Portal, roughly 15 percent of properties inspected in Brooklyn in 2011 showed signs of rat infestations, approximately the same percentage as the notoriously ratty Bronx. This compares to roughly 8 percent in Staten Island and Manhattan, and about 5 percent in Queens.

More rat inspections were carried out so far in Brooklyn in 2012 than in previous years – 34,594 — according to DOH, because Brooklyn joined a rat indexing program this year. Last year, just 20,401 inspections were carried out across the borough.

The rat indexing program is based on the concept that rats rarely inhabit a single property — rather, they occupy entire blocks or larger areas, so more properties are inspected.

A DOH spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle, “The Health Department takes a proactive approach to identifying and abating rat infestations by inspecting properties within neighborhoods simultaneously and returning to re-inspect properties every 8 to 12 months.”

A chief complaint is garbage, which DOH says should be in hard plastic rat-resistant containers with lids.

Of the 105 properties inspected last year in Brooklyn Zip code 11201, which covers both Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn, roughly 61 percent failed inspection because of signs of an active rat infestation. This is up from 26 percent in 2006 (374 properties were inspected in this Zip code in 2006, however).

In Zip code 11217, where Barclay’s Center is located, signs of rat infestation more than doubled — from 23 percent of inspected properties in 2006 to 59 percent in 2011. In May, DOH declared war on rats in Bushwick with a plan to inspect every property in District 4 and fine owners whose properties contain open garbage containers and litter.

Above: Near 86th Street and 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge.

Rats are no joke: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists six diseases carried by rats, the best-known one being Leptospirosis. While medical records in the New York City area indicate that the occurrence of rat-associated diseases in residents appears to be low, residents of infested cities could be at risk, say researchers who report finding new and troubling viruses in rats in Los Angeles.

According to a rat fact sheet put together by the Brooklyn Heights Association, rats nest within 150 feet of a food source and live in colonies of 60 or more. They can survive on almost anything edible, including fruit from ornamental trees and dog feces.

The best approach to rat control is Integrated pest management, using poisons as only one of many tools, including elimination of food and water sources, good sanitation, proper storage of trash, rat-proof construction, snap traps, glue traps and preventing access to buildings.

Heights Association’s Stanton advises homeowners to get rid of dense shrubs and ground cover like ivy, which is particularly “rat friendly.”

Call 311 to report rat infestations. You can also file a rodent complaint online.

Where the Rats Are in Brooklyn:

High-rat Zip codes in Brooklyn: 11201, 11217, 11206, 11216, 11211, 11221, 11222, 11237, and 11238.

Low-rat Zip codes in Brooklyn: 11207, 11209, 11214, 11223, 11228, 11234, 11235, and 11239 (only three properties were inspected in the 11239 Zip code, however).

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