As if Chicago doesn’t have enough problems with snow, cold, potholes and water main breaks, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) is raising another red flag: rats.
Fioretti is sounding the alarm — and pushing the Department of Streets and Sanitation to start using “liquid rodent sterilization bait” pioneered in New York City — amid fear that Chicago’s rat population will explode during the spring thaw.
The alderman said he saw rats over the last week, after temperatures finally climbed above freezing.
“I was going down Lake Street in the 1500 block and saw a whole crew of them scurrying into buildings. I saw them on the West Side yesterday doing my drive-around. I was up in the Gold Coast area and saw them. When you have that number of sightings in a limited period of time, we’ve got a problem,” Fioretti said.
“Yes, we’ve got all sorts of problems. But this affects the quality of life,” he said. “We’ve got to be aggressive in our city. We’re clearly not doing that. With this kind of winter, we haven’t been able to bait.”
Pointing to a recent article in Animal Planet magazine that pegged Chicago as the “No. 4 city with the most rats,” Fioretti is demanding that Chicago follow the Big Apple’s lead.
With help from a federal grant, New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority has been using a “rodent sterilization bait” known as ContraPest, which is touted for its ability to “accelerate the natural egg loss in female rats,” ultimately leading to what Fioretti calls “permanent, irreversible sterility.”
After meeting with SenesTech, an Arizona-based research firm that has been studying the “consumption and palatability of” the liquid bait, Fioretti said he’s convinced that it could work in Chicago.
SenesTech researchers reported that 51 percent of rats consumed the bait; 58 percent did so multiple times and, based on the trapping, there was a 43 percent reduction in the rat population in the trash room at New York’s Grand Central Station.
“If this technology can work in New York City, it can work here in Chicago,” Fioretti said.
INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: MAPPING CHICAGO’S RAT PROBLEM
The city tracks its rat problem by community area, and here’s a look at complaint or request for bait calls to 311. Here’s a look at the numbers just for the first month of 2014:
Fioretti said he has approached Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams about the idea of piloting the liquid bait in the 2nd Ward and, ultimately, using it citywide.
In an emailed statement, Streets and Sanitation spokeswoman Molly Poppe said: “The Department of Streets and Sanitation takes rodent control very seriously and is always looking for innovative ways to improve its service,. In 2014, calls from residents for rodent control services are down 53 percent over the same time last year, and the City recently launched an innovative preventive rodent baiting pilot that uses City data to predict rodent complaints and allows baiting crews to stop colonies from being established.
“We are meeting with SenesTech after studying the results of the pilot program launched by NYC’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, which provides positive initial data on different ways to combat rats. The meeting has been scheduled for some time, and we are going to explore how this product could work in Chicago,” the statement said.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported in December that the city was using predictive analytics to attack Chicago’s rat population.
The city’s Department of Innovation and Technology has identified 31 city service requests not directly related to rat sightings that trigger rodent control complaints.
They range from stray animal calls to vacant and abandoned buildings, missing or overflowing garbage carts and restaurant violations made within seven days in the same general area.
By scouring 311 service requests for those patterns on a daily basis, the city no longer has to wait until residents “smell a rat” or see one.
That allows Williams to dispatch one of about a dozen rodent control crews to start baiting before the population explosion.