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Our Superheroes of Rat Control

Mayor calls the Foggy Bottom West End Village one of the city’s ‘most forward-thinking concepts’
March 11, 2014

On a clear, crisp morn­ing recently, I had the chance to shadow some of the pest con­trollers from the DC Depart­ment of Health’s Rodent Con­trol Divi­sion as they made their rounds in Foggy Bottom.

As you may have noticed, rats are a per­sis­tent and grow­ing prob­lem in our neigh­bor­hood. Some of the rea­sons for rat infes­ta­tions are beyond our con­trol – our urban loca­tion, our loca­tion so close to the Potomac River, and a lot of local con­struc­tion activ­ity that dri­ves rats from their under­ground bur­rows. But accord­ing to Super­vi­sory Pest Con­troller Gabriel Cur­tis, we can do a lot to reduce the problem.

Pest controllers from the DC Department of Health’s Rodent Control Division on the job in Foggy Bottom.

Pest con­trollers from the DC Depart­ment of Health’s Rodent Con­trol Divi­sion on the job in FB.

The key, accord­ing to Cur­tis and his col­leagues, is tak­ing away the rats’ food source. This is not easy. Rats have been suc­cess­ful evo­lu­tion­ar­ily pre­cisely because they can eat just about any­thing – and they do. In addi­tion to what we humans con­sider food, rats will dine on a wide vari­ety of garbage. The les­son for us is to pick up every­thing and store all waste in secure cans with well-fitting lids. And we do mean every­thing – empty pizza boxes and beer cans on the ground are invi­ta­tions to local rodents to feast in our yards, dri­ve­ways, and alleys.

Another source of food for rats is your gar­den. While this is not prime gar­den­ing sea­son, it’s worth remem­ber­ing that those of us who grow fruits and veg­eta­bles need to pro­tect what we’re grow­ing with fences and pes­ti­cides and/or traps. We need to ensure we pick up fallen pro­duce imme­di­ately, and keep our gar­dens as clean as possible.

To address the rodent prob­lems, DOH staff use a strong roden­ti­cide that inter­feres with the abil­ity of a rat’s blood to clot. Back in the day, they used War­farin, but DCrats are immune, so the Rodent Con­trol Divi­sion uses a newer chem­i­cal. They spray the chem­i­cal in pow­der form into rat bur­rows, and then cover them. In other cases, the pest con­trollers will set up bait sta­tions along paths that rats travel. It is impor­tant for us to not touch these bait sta­tions – and we need to keep our pets away as well.

If you have a rat prob­lem on your prop­erty, there are a few things you can do. First, keep the area clean and clear. Don’t pro­vide the rats with any­thing they can use for food or shel­ter. If your trash can or recy­cling bin have seen bet­ter days, get new ones; you can pur­chase good qual­ity recep­ta­cles from your local hard­ware store or from the DC Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works. Line your trash cans with heavy-duty trash bags to keep the cans them­selves clean. And don’t waste your money on those mint-scented trash bags that sup­pos­edly deter rats. They don’t work. You’ll spend a lot of extra money, and all you’ll get is rats with fresh breath.

The Rodent Con­trol Divi­sion is avail­able by appoint­ment to treat single-family homes. You can call 311 (from a phone with a 202 area code), or go to and file a ser­vice request for Rat Abatement.

If you are inter­ested in learn­ing more about how you can reduce the rat pop­u­la­tion in our com­mu­nity, the Foggy Bot­tom Asso­ci­a­tion is plan­ning a Sat­ur­day after­noon Rat Sum­mit for early Decem­ber or early Jan­u­ary. Stay tuned for details.

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