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29 Jul, 2019 19:12

Not just Baltimore: American cities have a HUGE rat problem

Not just Baltimore: American cities have a HUGE rat problem

Amid the war of words between President Donald Trump and Congressman Elijah Cummings over tweets about Baltimore, an uncomfortable truth is emerging: many American cities have a problem with rats, lots of them.

Describing the district represented by Cummings (D-Maryland), including Baltimore, as a “rat and rodent infested mess” in a tweet over the weekend, the president drew a wave of condemnation from critics, some of whom interpreted the remark as a racist dog whistle about the city’s residents. Upon closer examination, however, Baltimore indeed ranks among the country’s most rodent-friendly cities, though not quite the worst.

Coming in at number nine (out of 50) on an annual list of America’s rattiest cities compiled by the pest control service Orkin, Baltimore has a pest problem no matter how one slices it. The battle to control the city’s prolific rodent population was even chronicled in a 2017 documentary, “Rat Film,” which eventually aired on PBS.

During a tour of the city last year, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh – who has since resigned in disgrace – observed “Woah, you can smell the rats,” in a video clip that has gone viral.

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Pests in cities tend to gather where trash accumulates, and rats in particular will nest wherever there is warmth and easy access to food (and they’ll eat just about anything). Though some might find the furry creatures cute, rats are no joke, carrying a range of infectious diseases, including hantavirus and hemorrhagic fever. If that wasn’t bad enough, the animals also reproduce at a disconcerting rate, birthing around 60 pups per year on average, allowing them to quickly overtake certain urban areas.

No La-La-Land

Other locales ranked on Orkin’s list face far worse infestations than Baltimore. For example, Los Angeles, California ranked second on the most recent list, overtaking New York. The city’s rodent population has now “exploded” into a serious public health risk.

“Rats are everywhere,” Niamh Quinn, Human-Wildlife Interactions Advisor with University of California, told KNBC Los Angeles in June. “And it's just not acceptable to expose people to this amount of disease.”

After inspecting an area of LA’s Produce District, a shocked Quinn said: “I've never seen this many droppings, ever.”

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Unlike New York – and Baltimore, for that matter – local authorities in LA have no formal program in place to address the city’s pest problem. Efforts to clean up LA streets may have actually exacerbated the issue. Without taking the required precautions, clearing away the trash heaped around the city may actually drive the infestation elsewhere and make it worse.

Though LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has vowed to tackle the issue, he conceded that officials could “absolutely” be doing a better job of controlling the rats.

Chicago: Number One

The grand prize, however, must be awarded to Chicago. Topping Orkin’s list for four years running, the city is America’s undisputed rat king. According to a separate study conducted by the apartment search service Rent Hop, Chicago officials received more rat complaints than any other city in the country in 2017, observing a 55 percent increase over the three years prior.

Largely stemming from poor trash management and an abundance of buildings, Chicago’s rat problem has also evolved into a crisis, particularly in the more densely populated neighborhoods on the city’s North side. In June, the city launched an offensive against its rat population, beefing up its pest control teams to address the constant stream of complaints from residents.

“I have small children. It’s not safe,” Chicagoan Michelle Hearn told WMAQ Chicago, echoing the concerns of many locals. “[The rats] are taking over these buildings.”

Because improper pest control efforts can worsen the problem, the city has urged residents to leave the matter to its “rat abatement” crews and to not practice any vigilante justice with the rodents.

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