Data suggests “war on rats” including comprehensive dumpster enforcement and uniform rodent-resistant trash bins have reduced the number of rats in Somerville

SOMERVILLE –Eighteen months after the City launched its comprehensive “war on rats” plan, Somerville is seeing encouraging signs that its policies are working—namely, a significant drop in reported rodent sightings.
Analysis of the data suggests that the City’s integrated pest management policies including comprehensive dumpster enforcement and uniform rodent-resistant trash bins have helped reduce rodent sightings by almost one-third beyond the normal seasonal fluctuation. Year-to-date, 311 Constituent Services has received 24 reports of rodent sightings, while in 2014 during the same time period, there were 103 reports. For a larger sample size, during the last 365 days 372 rodent sightings were reported. During the previous 365-day time frame there were 584 reports. That equates to a 36 percent decrease in recorded sightings.

Warmer winters in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 coincided with increased reports of rats in cities across the northeast, from Boston to New York to Chicago, as the mild temperatures failed to naturally decrease the rodent population. Somerville’s increased rodent reports after those warmer winters mirrored the increase seen in those cities, but since adopting new policies in the fall of 2013, Somerville’s numbers ceased to mirror Boston’s numbers. Reports of rodent sightings in Somerville went down much more sharply than in Boston, indicating that the City’s policies are having the intended effect.

“We want to see another season, but we are cautiously optimistic that these numbers show that the cooperation of the community and the policies we adopted, have reduced the rodent population in the city,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “We remain vigilant, and will continue watching the numbers closely, and stay active on multiple fronts—from denying rodents a food source to trapping and addressing any problem spots that may arise. I want to thank all the residents and business owners who have helped us by keeping their trash lids closed and registering their Dumpsters. It’s with your help that we’re having this success.”

Inspectional Services hired an additional health code enforcement officer in October 2013 to manage and enforce Dumpster licensing and inspections. At that time, 177 Dumpsters were licensed with the City. Through the efforts of the new inspector, 622 Dumpsters are now licensed with the City. The health inspector regularly inspects each registered Dumpster to ensure that it is free of holes, enclosed or screened in, has a tight-fitting and lockable lid, door, or cover that remains closed, and that both the dumpster and surrounding area are clean. Clean, well-maintained Dumpsters with closed lids deny rodents a food source—a critical goal in controlling the rodent population. Businesses and property owners with dumpsters receive guidance on Board of Health sanitation requirements as part of the Dumpster registration process.

“By overlapping maps of reported rodent sightings with registered Dumpsters, we’ve found that most calls about rats correlate with the location of commercial Dumpsters,” said Goran Smiljic, Superintendent of Inspectional Services. “By adding an inspector that we can dedicate to registering, inspecting and licensing Dumpsters, we have created an environment where it is much more difficult for rodents to access food in commercial trash, making it more difficult for them to survive and multiply.”

On the residential trash side, new uniform, rodent-resistant trash carts were provided to residents citywide in June 2014 before the usual high rodent sighting season of summer. Every household that receives trash service from the City was provided free of charge one of the 64-gallon wheeled carts with secure-fitting attached lids, which helps keep rodents out of residential trash and further denies them any sources of food, while making it easier for residents to comply with the City’s ordinance passed by the Board of Aldermen requiring a tightly closed lid on trash carts put out for pickup.

“Rodents are an issue so many cities struggle unsuccessfully to address, so it’s really encouraging to see the number or rodent sightings in Somerville falling so dramatically. This just shows what you can achieve when you apply strategic resources and pass effective ordinances, and then have the type of community where city officials, business owners and residents will all work together to achieve a goal. This wouldn’t have worked if each dumpster owner and resident had not done their part,” said Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston. “But our work isn’t done. We will continue our efforts around this very important life quality issue for our community.”

As part of its comprehensive Integrated Pest Management Plan, the City also launched its Residential Rodent Control Assistance Program, offering up to 2,000 homeowners per year free one-time rodent control services including baiting, dusting and trapping. Since launching in July 2014, 28 households have applied for and received extermination services through the program. City Health inspectors survey the property for evidence of rodents and provide educational materials on rodent prevention to qualifying owner-occupants, who must agree to take recommended rodent prevention actions (such as removing pet food bowls from outdoors or clearing debris from yards) in exchange for the recommended free rodent abatement treatment of their choice. Extermination services are provided by All-Star Pest to owner-occupied residential properties with one-to-three units that have evidence of rodent activity, as determined by Inspectional Services. Residents interested in receiving rodent abatement assistance in 2015 should contact 311 (dial 617-666-3311 if outside the city or on a cell phone).

The City also continues to work with biotechnology company SenesTech, Inc. on research in Somerville of a humane approach to reducing the rat population through rodent fertility management, using non-lethal bait that suppresses the reproductive capability of rodents. Senestech will run pilots using its ContraPest bait at a mix of six public and private locations in the city this season.

“Rodents are part of the eco-structure of cities that cannot be entirely eliminated, so the goal of every city is to reduce their population to levels where they are not infringing upon our quality of life or our health,” said Superintendent Smiljic. “We are encouraged by the positive results to our efforts that we have seen so far citywide, and will continue to address any hotspots that arise, so keep those 311 calls coming. But in short, so far it appears that our approach is making a real difference.”

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