Council Members Hear From Rat Control Consultant

In a scene in a Three Stooges film, a patient in a mental health hospital, pointing to a button-hole on his shirt, tells the Stooges, “I’ve seen rats come out of that hole!“ and everyone in the audience laughed. 

Well, the rats are coming out of the holes in the ground in the Boston parks where children play and out of the cracks in the Boston sewer masonry walls, but it is not funny. And their population is growing fast.

That’s the message that a subcommittee of the Boston City Council heard from research scientist and rodentologist Dr. Bobby Corrigan at a meeting in the Council Chambers on April 9. Corrigan has been hired by the city as a consultant on the rat problems in the city.

The problem is only going to get worse in the coming years, said Corrigan, as the global population of rats is increasing. In cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, the rat population is expanding even faster, thanks to the many food sources for rats to feast on, such as open trash containers and plastic bags filled with food on the streets, as well as large burrowing holes for rats to breed.

District 9 Councilor Liz Brendon, a sponsor of the hearing, told her colleagues that this is the fifth hearing on rats that she has attended in as many years, but now there is talk of hiring a rat czar and establishing a separate department to deal with what many councillors are calling a quality-of-life issue.

In a previous meeting, Ward 8 City Councillor Sharon Durkan stressed the urgency of addressing the problem.

“Residents should reach out to my office if they see an uptick of rat activity on the streets, as this is a major priority for my office,” Durkan said at that time. “My team has been working closely with the hardworking staff at the Inspectional Services Department to make sure rat burrows and sewers are baited, and I’m glad we have such dedicated partners at ISD for our rat mitigation efforts.”

During the April 9 hearing, District 2 City Councillor Ed Flynn asked how many inspectors from ISD are working on rodent control. He was told by the city’s Chief of Operations, Dion Irish, that there are 14 full-time inspectors who work basically Monday through Thursday.  Flynn noted that many problems occur during the weekend when there are no ISD inspectors working, though Irish pointed out that there are other inspectors from other departments who are on-call and who can address a rat problem. 

However, the overall tone at the hearing was upbeat in view of the city’s hiring of Corrigan as a consultant to design a rat control program for the city.

In addition, in March councilors established the Boston Rat Action Plan (BRAP)  to identify possible steps to address the problem.

Corrigan told the committee that a simple solution is “no food, no rats.” He also showed some of the rat-proof barrels that are in use.  Corrigan, who is completing his report for city officials and expects it to be ready in a few weeks, thanked the city workers who helped him to go into the field to find the places where rats live and breed, such as alleys with food and the sewers, where rats peer from cracks in the brick walls.   

He also offered some “band-aid approaches” for the time being, such as making sure that construction projects are done with thought about the consequences to adjacent areas so that the rats do not migrate to a quieter place, creating a new problem in a new area.

And there was a final, sobering piece of advice that Corrigan offered: Just one rat-infested property can affect up to 10 other adjacent properties that never have had a problem with rats and mice.

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