Monday, June 21, 2010

We Smell a Rat

The Gotham Gazette has an interesting story on the city’s new rat control methodology-under the questionable premise of doing more with less. We say questionable because the city has never done what we believe is necessary to really control the rat epidemic-attack the rodents’ food source: Natalie Hunnicutt’s first assignment as a pest control aide for the city, was, she recalls, also her most memorable: crashing a party of dozens of rodents at a Queens supermarket. “There were rats scurrying left and right and I just thought ‘Oh my goodness,’” the Brooklyn resident said. The pests were leaping over her feet and into a mountain of trash, the result of people using the store’s parking lot as a garbage dump. By the end of the day, Hunnicutt said she and seven of her colleagues removed about 400 bags of garbage from the site.”

But GG tells us that the city is going to implement a smarter strategy-and we smile, knowing that this is simply a fig leaf for the fact that workers at the rat control unit had to be laid off: “The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where Pest Control Services resides, laid off Hunnicutt and 48 of her coworkers. That will save $1.5 million, according to the department. It will leave the department with 41 workers. Beyond saving money, however, the city says the layoffs are part of a plan to restructure the bureau’s rodent control program. Rather than cleaning lots in response to complaints, the health department has a new project called rodent indexing, which, it says, can control the rat population with fewer workers. Union leaders and some City Council members, though, remain skeptical and warn about a potential vermin crisis in New York.”

And their skepticism is well founded since the city has eschewed the most effective methodology available-the use of commercial food waste disposers. And it is, as they say, no accident that the Gazette leads its rat treatise with a supermarket anecdote; because it is in the city’s food stores and restaurants where organic food waste becomes-in the immortal words of Templeton the Rat-“a veritable smörgåsbord.”

And as we have pointed out, time and time again, the use of disposers has many useful public policy outcomes-from reducing food store disposal costs and increasing their profitability; to potentially enabling the system to shut down, or at least greatly modify commercial garbage transfer stations in low income areas of the city.

And, most importantly, this is a major public health issue-certainly more compelling than the amount of trans fats New Yorkers consume in their restaurants. As the Gazette highlights: “Rodents are preponderant, albeit unwelcome, residents of the city. New York has consistently been named the city most at risk for rodent infestation, according to several reports released over the years by d-Con. The two research scientists who coauthored the 2009 Rodent Risk Report said with New York’s aging infrastructure and high population density, it is no surprise rodents run rampant here.”

But the resistance to the use of food waste disposers continues owing to the resistance of the hidebound bureaucracy over at the DEP-and as we have said before, its opposition (and the unnecessary building of an East Side MTS) underscores Alasdair McIntyre’s observation that, “bureaucratic wisdom is one of the great moral fictions of our time.”