On Monday, December 18th Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) joined Mayor Muriel Bowser as she kicked off her monthly community walk. The walk kicked off with a demonstration of rat abatement by Department of Health (DOH) professionals using the dry ice technique. City officials, agency directors and commissioners from local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANC) also attended.
The demonstration took place in an alley behind the 1200 block of H Street NE. It was both an introduction to the method and a way of drawing attention to the Mayor’s fight against the rodent and the new bill Councilmember Allen has co-introduced to fight the problem.
In May, Councilmember Allen introduced legislation that would require all food establishments to incorporate rodent abatement and prevention measures into their daily operations and empower DOH inspectors with more tools for enforcement. The bill had a hearing before the Committee on Health on December 6.
Dry ice has previously been used as a pesticide in the District, but the practice was halted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because dry ice was not registered for use as rat control, and therefore violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). This summer, Bell Laboratories registered a rodenticide using dry ice, allowing local pest management professionals to use the product again.
The product can be used by residents, and is relatively cheap, costing about 50 cents per burrow, said Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) Director Tommy Wells, who also attended the event. “The biggest danger is that you might burn your hands,” he said, “so you’ll want to use tongs or gloves or something.”
During the demonstration, DOH professionals put dry ice, which is actually frozen carbon dioxide, into a rat burrow using an ice scoop and then pushed it deep inside using a stick. They then buried the hole to cut off access to air. As the ice melts and releases the gas, the rodents inside are poisoned, essentially suffocating to death. DOH professionals return after about two weeks to re-examine the situation.
“It is just one more tool in our toolbox,” said Gerard Brown, Program Manager for Rodent and Vector Control at DOH. “It works best in an enclosed area. The best method to fight rats is still to take away their food source –to clean up the trash.”
District resident Karen McNeill agrees. At the kick-off, she told the Mayor that the empty lot next to her home near Tenth and I Streets NE is essentially used as a dog park. Combined with what she said was sloppy handling of trash pickup by Department of Public Works (DPW) trash collectors, and she said she feels like she is living next to a rat magnet.
McNeill said she goes so far as to wash out her trash cans once the trash is collected, to make them less attractive to rats. “I don’t like rats,” she said, “and I don’t want them inside of my house.”
DPW Director Christopher Shorter told MacNeill that DPW can identify her specific crew and take steps to address those concerns. Bowser made a point of walking by MacNeill’s home on her route, stopping to discuss the situation with agency directors.
Asked if she felt the community walk would help to address the problem with rats in her neighborhood, McNeill said she hoped so. “I’m really going to try the dry ice before I contact the city again,” she said. “I feel the city should provide dry ice to residents because after all, they just said it doesn’t cost that much,” she added.
While those in attendance seemed optimistic about the reintroduction of dry ice as a weapon in the war on rats, it is still understood that prevention must begin with changing the environment in which rats breed and thrive. Removing the food source and cleaning up the trash is one of the goals of the legislation co-introduced by Councilmember Allen.
“I’m grateful that Mayor Bowser is holding this walk and continues to demonstrate her commitment to finding serious answers to a serious problem across our city and in Ward 6,” said Councilmember Allen. “It’s going to take a full community effort to get our rodent issue under control. My legislation would add more tools to the toolbox by requiring food establishments to think ahead and incorporate rodent control into their daily business plans. In the end, food waste is what attracts and sustains rodents.”