Once again newspapers are headlined with the word "Rats," and the questions on every resident’s mind are, "Where did they come from this time?" and "How do we get rid of them?" Like many other problems that face large groups of people trying to live together in small spaces, a solution requires a team effort. But, before we can begin an effective program to exterminate the rodents, it is necessary to understand why they infest our homes and neighborhoods, what we can personally do about it, and where we need professional help.
Rats are typical New Yorkers–they go where the food is good. The very first and most important step in any extermination program is to completely remove–not just reduce or diminish–any food source. The most obvious locations, the compactor and recycling areas, should be scrubbed with degreasers and disinfectants daily. The inside of the compactor and the inside of the entire compactor chute, from top to bottom, should be cleaned frequently and thoroughly.
Recyclable bottles and cans should be placed in sealed containers. Plastic and rubber containers are available in many sizes and even come color-coded. It is important that an ample number of containers be distributed strategically throughout the building. People are much more cooperative when it is convenient for them.
Kitchen exhaust ducts are favorite places for vermin who prefer high-cholesterol diets. The grease that collects on the interior walls or oozes through the joints, along with the warmth of the ducting, is like a suite at the Plaza in the middle of the winter. It is also not unusual to actually find droppings in the ductwork. It is very difficult to locate damages or holes in the air ducts in existing 20- to 70-year-old buildings, so it is extremely important to keep them clean. Regular periodic cleaning removes the source of food and motivation for rodents to enter the ducts.
Besides the more obvious areas, like basements and compactor rooms, "quiet areas," such as backyards and unused alleyways, should be policed and kept free of any debris that offers a safe and undisturbed place for nesting. Vermin will visit the garbage can for dinner, but they don’t like to sleep there. They need a safe place to nest. Removing anything, including rubbish, furniture, etc. that is not mobile or moved on a regular basis, forces rats to travel greater distances, and finally to relocate.
All types of vermin and pests voluntarily migrate toward food sources, but they all REQUIRE water. Dry, clean areas are never infested. Standing water or continuous leaks need to be plugged and/or dried up.
Although building residents and personnel can perform the more basic cleaning activities, professionals should perform some functions. Only licensed exterminators should administer traps and poisons. There are many new developments in the extermination industry and reputable companies will gladly take the time to educate their customers about the safest and most effective products for their particular requirement. Extermination efforts should be scheduled on a regular basis. It is considerably less expensive and safer to keep rodents out then to get them out.
Cleaning the inside of the compactor chute and air ducts requires special, sometimes sophisticated, equipment. Fortunately for the consumer, the recent increase in demand for these services has driven the prices down. Annual programs to maintain clean indoor environments are a tiny percentage of a building’s annual operating costs. Scheduled preventive maintenance is always less expensive than reactive problem solving.
Another important aspect of vermin living arrangements is the integrity of the building itself. Open areas within the walls, especially in the basement areas, are invitations for vermin and pests to move in and stay. These "empty areas" within the building’s structure should be identified and sealed with an impenetrable caulk. A hole the size of a ballpoint pen is large enough for mice to navigate. Rats are able to move through holes as small as dimes. These pests can travel long distances for food and water once establishing a safe place to nest.
Although the popularity of rats in the Metropolitan area has grown lately, their population is as old as the city. The problem is not "the construction next door," or that "they’re coming out of the subway." It is the people who share some portion of real estate with them. Unlike small forest animals, city rats do not eat grass and nuts. They eat garbage. We feed them. We can not rely on the municipality to control rodent populations and eliminate them from the places where we live and work. Individuals need to get involved and use the tools that are now available to keep their personal share of the environment clean and dry.
Paul Coburn is the Manhattan representative for Chute Master Environmental Services, a national indoor environmental maintenance company.