Democracy Dies in Darkness

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D.C. needs to use every tool to get rid of rats

By Editorial Board

January 2, 2018 at 7:38 PM

CAPSTAT IS a data-driven approach to improving government efficiency that the administration of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) uses to address the city's most pressing problems. Among the issues that have been analyzed: sexual assault, school-readiness, traffic and congestion, emergency medical services and — most recently — rats. That the mayor late last year gathered a dozen of her top managers for an urgent discussion of rats and what to do about them underscores how serious the problem has become.

Rats are not a new issue for the District. Such was the problem in the 1960s that resident and D.C. activist Julius Hobson famously captured the animals in his Northeast back yard, strapped them atop his car and threatened to release them in wealthy white neighborhoods to make a point about the government's lack of action. Rats also are not unique to the District but a persistent problem in urban metropolises. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) launched a $32 million effort targeting the city's worst rat-infested areas. Chicago, having the dubious distinction of topping pest-control company Orkin's rattiest-cities list, is experimenting with new abatement methods.

The District, which placed fifth on Orkin's list, reports that the number of resident complaints to 311 about rats has more than doubled since 2015, to more than 5,000 last fiscal year. Among the factors cited: more people, more restaurants, more trash. Also, more construction that displaces rodent populations and a series of mild winters that didn't cull the numbers.

The mayor's muscular response to what is seen as a public-health issue has gotten generally good reviews. Her rat walks have put the problem under a spotlight, calling attention to the critical need for cooperation from businesses and the citizenry in managing trash. New tactics, such as use of dry ice in rat burrows and solar trash cans, have been introduced, while businesses have been given grants to buy trash compactors. Requiring construction sites to put rodent-abatement plans in place and partnering with the National Park Service to maintain federal sites are also being instituted.

More, of course, needs to be done. Coordination among the various agencies responsible for sanitation needs improvement, and the workers on the city's extermination teams need the technology to do their jobs more efficiently. And government is only part of the answer to controlling rats — every person, business and household must do their part.

Read more:

Grant Sizemore: Cats are not the answer to D.C.'s rat problem

Ann Telnaes: Raining rats and lap dogs

Letters to the Editor: A lesson in the care of lab rats

Ann Telnaes: Rats, rats and more rats

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