NEW YORK -- With officials noting an alarming increase in New York's rat population, a City Council committee was told Tuesday that the main culprit might be as simple as the ubiquitous plastic garbage bags that have eclipsed metal cans at the curb. Pest control executives said the bags, and the food they contain, are potluck for vermin.
"Rats simply rip these bags apart," said Ronald Meringolo, the owner of a Manhattan exterminating company and president of the Professional Pest Control Association of New York State, a trade association. He was among several industry experts called to testify before the four-month-old Select Committee on Pest Control, formed by the council in response to the rat infestation.
Other factors have aggravated the problem, the experts said, including two years of mild weather, enabling unusually high numbers of rats to survive winter, and tightening health restrictions on the use of rat poison in urban areas. Members of the council committee faulted city health officials and the Department of Sanitation for failing to solicit advice from private industry on the causes of and solutions to the problem.
No one in city government or private industry has provided reliable estimates of the rat population, but the executives have testified that their work in apartment buildings, restaurants, office towers and elsewhere provided ample evidence that Norway rats, the city's dominant species, are flourishing.
They pointed repeatedly to New Yorkers' changing methods of sorting their trash, separating material for recycling, and setting it all at the curb as a boon to the rodents.