Newton residents voiced concerns about an increase in rat sightings around the city during a virtual forum hosted by mayoral candidate Amy Mah Sangiolo, featuring renowned urban rodentologist Bobby Corrigan.
The Sept. 8 forum, “Let’s Talk About Rats,” covered topics from rat poison protocols to city garbage maintenance.
“I have literally seen them pop through the fence . . . over to my yard,” Newton resident Susan Donnellan said in the meeting. “They run around for a minute and realize there’s not a whole lot for them.”
Corrigan, a pest management consultant for more than two decades, said he thinks the solution to the rat problem needs to be a combined effort from everyone in Newton, especially when it comes to garbage management.
“The most important thing is you’re organized, and you have a partnership between the city’s duties, the business community, and the residential,” Corrigan said.
Reports of rat sightings increased 52 percent during the pandemic — from 105 reports filed in 2019 to 160 in 2020, according to data provided this summer by Linda Walsh, deputy commissioner of the Newton’s Health and Human Services Department. Through June 16 of this year, the data showed the city had received 57 reports of rat sightings.
Throughout the virtual meeting, residents asked questions about where rats were coming from. Some pointed to nearby construction sites as a possible source.
Corrigan said that while “construction doesn’t cause rats,” it can disturb them. In fact, rat populations are up in cities around the world, he said.
“Construction sites need to be held to a much higher degree of making sure they’re responsible for any rats they disturb,” Corrigan said. “But that has to be in conjunction with the city because it wouldn’t be the construction contractors’ fault, either.”
Sangiolo said it’s important to address the issue because it impacts quality of life.
“We need to air it, we need to discuss it,” she said in the meeting. “We need to learn more about it so that we can figure out a way to deal with the problem.”
During the meeting, Newton City Councilor Tarik Lucas asked about the use of rat poison and rodent birth control to manage the pest population.
Corrigan said he thinks poison is the wrong approach, and other cities haven’t seen success with the use of birth control.
“The poisons are not just staying put with the rodents, they’re ending up with hawks and owls and foxes and coyotes, and so forth,” Corrigan said in the meeting. “We want a smart, scientifically big approach.”
Currently, residents and others can report rat sightings via the city’s online form, apps.newtonma.gov/rodent-report, where they can include the date, location, and other details.
In an e-mail, Newton’s Director of Community Communications Ellen Ishkanian pointed to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s August update, which included a list of “prevention, correction, and enforcement” initiatives aimed at addressing rats in town.
One initiative requires the Inspectional Services Department to “implement immediately a new policy requiring rodent control services for every full property demolition permit.”
The Department of Planning & Development also will routinely recommend to the City Council “all special permit projects involving excavation” have rodent control services as a requirement of approval — a step historically only required on larger projects.
Other measures include distributing information about rodent control to contractors and owners at active excavation sites and implementing an “environmentally-sensitive rodent control program on City properties in areas experiencing issues.”
Fuller’s tips for residents included picking up pet feces and spilled birdseed, ensuring trash lids are closed tightly, covering compost piles, and keeping grills clean.
“We have learned that discouraging rodents from living in our City is most successful as a community effort,” Fuller said in the update.
The city’s Health and Human Services Department “conducted 133 site assessments so far this calendar year and have been quite successful in working with homeowners and businesses to complete remedial actions,” she wrote.
Fuller’s new initiatives also include exploring a rodent control financial assistance program for “residents with lower resources.”
Todd McNamara, co-owner of Green Planet Pest Control in Brighton, said the number of rats comes down to garbage.
“A lot of people try to point to the city,” McNamara said in an interview. “It’s not up to the city to control food sources.”
“Rats multiply like crazy, and they’ll keep coming back to your yard,” he said.
For more information about rats in Newton, visit the city’s website.
Audrey Porter and Jenny Kornreich can be reached at email@example.com.