Monday, March 05, 2007

Disposing the Rats

In today's NY Sun the paper's Grace Rauh, new on the city council beat, writes on the issue of food waste disposers and raises the question of why this potent garbage disposal methodology isn't being used to help food stores and restaurants cope with the persistent rat infestation that has caused such a stir over the past two weeks. Some of the responses from the relevant city agencies was unintentionally amusing.

The crux of the comedy devolves from the disconnect that appears to exist between the various city bureaucracies that, at one time or another, are charged with dealing with food waste and the rat problem. The DEP has been given direct responsibility for developing a policy on food waste disposers and, as we have commented, appears to have an animus towards their use that transcends the empirical evidence of their supposed impact on the city's waste water treatment facilities.

It has been the intransigence of this agency that has stood in the way of getting the city council to initiate the pilot program envisioned by Intro 133, a measure that at one time had 33 co-sponsors. Given this bureaucratic obstinacy, and the opposition of a few environmental elitists, the mayor and the speaker struck a deal to put off any discussion of disposers until 2009 at the earliest.

All of this is given a new sharp relief, however, with the exposure of the public health crisis generated by the rat infestation at local food outlets. Now, as the Sun article highlights, we really need to take a second look at the use of FWDs to address the rodent invasion. But the article underscores the bureaucratic confusion. A spokesman for the DOH acknowledges that"rodents are on the prowl for food and are attracted to garbage," but he said that we wouldn't comment on the use of disposers "and said questions would be best directed at the Department of Environmental Protection."

The Sun goes on to point out that the indoor storage of garbage is a direct result of a 2003 Department of Sanitation program called "Operation Dumpster." A spokesman for this agency said that the program "was designed to keep dumpsters off sidewalks and to reduce smells on the street" (and prevent the visible rat activity that freaks folks out). In other words for public health reasons. The spokesperson wasn't asked what kind of impact the indoor storage of garbage in food preparation areas would have on rodent infestation, but it takes little imagination to hazard a guess here.

It is left to Luis Nunez of the Latino Restaurant Association to make sense of this "emperor's new clothes" situation: "We have tons and tons of solid, wet garbage...Garbage in restaurants is the no. 1 prime reason why you begin to have a rodent or roach infestation." In the case of this city, however, the concern for flora and fauna in the estuaries trumps the real seriousness of the health impacts of vermin infestation all over New York's neighborhoods.

It would seem that a mayor who has made public health his top priority, regardless of the costs, would see the imperative of bringing the food waste issue to a proper resolution. Instead, the one public health measure that would actually help business is resisted and the rat smorgasbord continues unabated.