The city's top rat official told city councilors today that ISD's rat team will soon resume use of dry ice to kill rats - and just in time, what with growing rat complaints coming in from all parts of the city.
Leo Boucher, assistant ISD commissioner, who oversees 15 city rat-control specialists, says dry ice had proven very efficient and safe in killing rats in earlier experiments in which the dry-ice pellets were placed in rat burrows, where it then created clouds of carbon dioxide that suffocated the rats inside before dissipating into the air, leaving behind nothing harmful that could hurt pets or young children, unlike more traditional pesticides. But the EPA banned its use after somebody complained it didn't have federal registration as a pesticide.
At a City Council hearing today, Boucher said that issue has been taken care of, if somewhat awkwardly. A Wisconsin company called Bell Laboratories, which has nothing to do with the former storied AT&T electronics research facility, is the only company federally licensed to distribute dry ice as a rodenticide, under the name Rat Ice.
Boucher said an ISD employee who lives near Woburn will pick up Rat Ice stickers from a distributor there, so that he or another employee can then drive to a dry-ice company in Rockland to pick up the pellets, the containers for which the employee will then place the stickers, before driving them back to Boston for use in the war on rats.
Boucher blamed "a perfect storm" this past spring for Boston's seeming rat explosion: A mild winter followed by the Covid-19 shutdown of the restaurants that normally provide the dumpster buffets just as rats were ready to forage during their breeding season.
Couple that with Covid-19 spurred explosion of people eating at home, and tossing the half-eaten food that rats just yum up and the result was an expansion of rat territory as opportunistic rats quickly spread out through new residential areas in search of what constitutes gourmet food for them.
"Rodents don't need filet mignon, they don't need spring water," they are quite content with pizza crusts and other tossed food, Boucher said.
Boucher acknowledged that, yes, in their frenzied migratory quest for food, Boston rats have become more aggressive than usual. But he tried to soothe freaked-out residents, at least a bit: "They are more aggressive towards each other," and not towards people.
The news that the city will soon have a new weapon in its anti-rat arsenal comes not soon enough for councilors and residents of neighborhoods from Chinatown to downtown to Allston/Brighton.
"It's a very distressing situation," said Allston/Brighton Councilor Liz Breadon, who said the burst of rattiness in recent months has only worsened her neighborhood's already longstanding monicker as "Rat City."
Boucher said that when not CO2-bombing rat burrows, his team will be busy on a public-education campaign, armed with lots of fliers to try to convince residents to be more careful with food bits and to use 311 to report any open dumpsters or ripped-open trash bags they see. Worst case, well, ISD Commissioner Dion Irish said, the city currently has court actions against 15 people or companies for intractable trash problems.
Residents of some areas, such as Chinatown, said that even if people want to be careful with putting out trash, they might have problems because there's simply no room in their living spaces or on the street for garbage cans.
City Councilor Ed Flynn (South Boston, South End, Chinatown, downtown) specifically fingered young people "eating pizza and spuckies and all sorts of foods" and then just tossing the remains wherever. Councilor Kenzie Bok (Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill) said she is tired of people coming into her district with trash that they just dispose there.
Bok and Council President Kim Janey (Roxbury) said they have gotten numerous complaints from residents about the way the city pushed back the start of trash collection from 7 a.m. to 6 a.m., which they said makes it harder for many residents in the more densely populated parts of their districts, where trash cans are impossible, to only bring their trash outside in the morning, rather than putting it out at night.
Edward Hsieh of Chinatown's Asian-American Civic Association, suggested the city change its zoning codes for Chinatown to require new buildings to include some sort of communal space where local restaurants and other businesses could store their trash between pickups; currently, the neighborhood's narrow streets are lined on trash day with bins and bags. Flynn said the city should look into "collapsible bins" that could be stowed away after they're emptied of trash,
Anthony D'Isidoro, president of the Allston Civic Association, said developers should be required to develop rodent-control plans for their buildings and made to stick with them - in part by making them require their properties have no infestations when they go before city boards for permission to put up new buildings.
ISD, he said, also needs to do more to crack down on landlords in a neighborhood where so many people rent and so don't have the same compunction about doing their part to stave off the rats as homeowners.
Pointing to the potential health risks of rat droppings, he said ISD needs to act quickly. "Let's not give our residents another reason to permanently leave our city," he said.