Ubiquitous rodent infestations throughout Boston was the topic at hand during a City Council hearing held on Thursday, Dec. 8, at City Hall, as well as virtually.
The meeting, sponsored by the City Council’s Committee on City Services and Innovation Technology, chaired by Councilor Kenzie Bok, came in response to two recently filed orders. The first order, filed by Council President Ed Flynn and Councilors Liz Breadon and Erin Murphy, called for a hearing to discuss pest control in the city. The second order, filed by Councilors Bok and Ruthzee Louijeune, and Council President Ed Flynn, called for a hearing to discuss trash containerization in the city.
Council President Flynn described rodent infestations in his district as the issue he’s likely focused on the most since joining the City Council six years ago.
“It’s a significant quality of life and a significant public health issue that could cause people to move out of the city,” said Council President Flynn, who represents District 2.
At-large Councilor Murphy, now in her first year on the job, echoed Councilor Flynn’s sentiments, saying rodent infestations are “in every neighborhood, even if construction isn’t going on.”
Likewise, Councilor Bok described the city’s rodent problem as “a critical public health issue and one of the most basic things about city services.”
The problem, said Councilor Bok, is exacerbated by a couple of factors. First, in parts of the city like Beacon Hill, there isn’t adequate room for large trash barrels to be left on the sidewalk or inside homes. Another factor, she said, is that since the city changed the trash pickup time from 7 a.m. to 6 a.m., residents often leave their trash out overnight; that issue has been compounded with trucks coming later in the day to pick up trash, creating “longer “windows” of trash left on the street, she added.
“Leaving thin plastic bags out for 24 hours, which is the status quo, isn’t a workable solution,” said Councilor Bok, who recommended scheduling trash pickup for late morning so that residents “wouldn’t have any excuse for leaving it out the night before.”
Diana Coldren, a 22-year resident of Beacon Hill who has been active in recycling and trash efforts in the neighborhood since 2009, said in her public testimony that “the rodent issue is probably the number-one quality-of-life issue right now in the city and definitely on Beacon Hill.”
Coldren recently started an online petition urging the city to adopt an 8 a.m. pickup time on Mondays and Fridays for trash and recyclables on Beacon Hill, as well as to mandate same day-placement of trash for pickup by residents. Trash and recyclables are now picked up in the neighborhood on Mondays and Fridays at 6 a.m. The petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-rat-buffet-in-beacon-hill.
“I think this will really cause a reduction, maybe even an acceptable number, of rats in the neighborhood,” Coldren said of same-day trash pickup. She also recommended that trash be first removed from Charles Street, where it would be most visible to tourists and shoppers.
Moreover, Coldren asked if the city is considering any other types of rodent prevention, such as ContraPest– a birth control product for rodents used in Washington, D.C. She also urged resident to call or text 3-1-1 to notify the city of any rat sightings
Dennis Roache, assistant superintendent of waste reduction for Boston Public Works, as well as a panelist at the hearing, said, “There’s no regulation for storing trash on the sidewalk, so we’ve been trying to educate people over the last six months or so to containerize it.”
The city launched its “first pilot in containerization” on July 1, said Roache, when 10,000 registered for the newly created composting program. It has since proven so successful that 7,000 residents are already on the waiting list for the “next rollout” on July 1, 2023, he said.
Roache said he expects the composting program would be a “very effective tool” for depriving rodents of their food source, but he added that rodents also feast on dog waste and on feed from birdfeeders.
As for the results of the city changing the trash pickup time to 6 a.m. from 7 a.m. per the terms of the five-year, $28 million contract that it entered into with East Boston-based Capitol Waste Services on July 1, 2019, Roache said, “I don’t think it’s gotten the results the city wanted.”
John Ulrich, assistant commissioner of environmental services for the Inspectional Services Department, as well as a panelist, said, “Over the last couple of months, we’ve increased night trappings and baitings, applied over 500 ponds of dry ice, and deployed the use of our BurrowRX [rodent control] machine.”
Ulrich added that the city has been looking at data related to rodents, and that ISD plans to hire two more inspects to bring its staff to full capacity. A “trash fellow,” funded by Public Works, will also be hired in the near future, he said.
The city has also had conversations with Modern Pest Services, the Woburn company that worked with the City of Somerville earlier this year to deploy 50 SMART boxes described as “non-toxic, industrial-grade traps that catch rodents above ground and provide real-time data for proactive pest control.”
Asked what parts of Boston see the most rodent activity, Ulrich pointed to the downtown neighborhoods and added that Brighton has also seen an increase in respect to commercial trash.
On a related note, Roache said that fines levied to landlords for improper trash storage have done little to deter the issue as “bad actor” landlords simply allow their fees to pile up.
Parker James, a longtime Marlborough Street resident, said he supports the idea of the city launching a trash containerization pilot, but he added, “There might not be s single solution. We might need to try different things.”
One outside-the-box solution, according to James, was the construction of a “feral cat house” in Chelsea. The windproof structure, deigned Dan and Marie Law Adams of the Landing Studio of Somerville, is elevated in the trees to provide shelter for the feral cats that previously resided in a Chelsea junkyard, where they feasted on the rodents living there, said James.
Another longtime Marlborough Street resident, Conrad Armstrong, said the city needed to make exceptions for dense neighborhoods like the Back Bay, where residential buildings don’t have trash pickup in the alley, in addition to having no rear yards or interior space to store trash. In these cases, he recommended that the city deploy “hard, plastic rollable [trash] bins” that would be “essentially left on the sidewalks at all times.”
Armstrong also asked if the city could notify residents via text of the approximate time when their trash would be picked up to limit the period of time that trash is left out.
Alexandra Crevon, who represents the residents of 425-427 Marlborough St., requessted that trash be removed from Marlborough Street, which, she said, is the only street in the Back Bay where trash is collected from the street, as opposed to from the back alleys. She suggested the use of locked trash containers accessible to residents and the city and offered the use of her block for a pilot program.
Councilor Bok, meanwhile, underscored the urgency for the city to address the ongoing rodent problem before the current trash removal contract expires.
“We can’t wait 18 months [for the city’s existing trash removal contrast to expire] so anything we can attempt together we really, really need to be doing,” said Councilor Bok.