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baltimoresun.com

Rat eradication program in Lansdowne this week

By Julie Baughman, jbaughman@tribune.com

2:17 PM EST, February 12, 2013

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Rats in alleyways. Rats in backyards. Rats boldly gnawing through heavy plastic garbage bags. Rats that seem to be the size of cats. Rats everywhere.

Those living in the Riverview area of Lansdowne have faced such scenes for some time now.

Help from an unexpected source seems to be the only thing keeping the rat population somewhat under control in the area.

"We have snakes in the area, trust me that's something I want," said Ron Whitehead, president of Riverview-Ryerson Circle Communities Association. "Snakes eat rats."

The community has been plagued with an infestation of rats that has continued to grow while concerned residents battled with county code enforcement officials to take action.

This week, that action will take place, according to Lionel van Dommelen, chief of code enforcement for Baltimore County.

The county's Rat Attack program, a countywide effort to treat and eliminate rat infestations, began in Riverview Feb. 11.

Rats have been a problem in Riverview for more than three years, according to Whitehead.

Trash accumulation in alleyways, called easements, is the main cause of the growing infestation, he said.

"People just throw stuff in there, they're a mess," Whitehead said.

Whitehead said that the trash, combined with people not picking up dog waste and leaving out food for birds, has created a massive problem in his neighborhood.

"People throwing food out for birds and squirrels, it's a smorgasbord for rats and rodents," he said.

Dommelen agreed that trash is one of the biggest attractions that bring rats to a neighborhood.

"The population of rats will grow or shrink in direct proportion to the food supply," Dommelen said.

"If folks are not cleaning these things up and storing their trash properly, then the population grows," he said.

A single breeding pair of rats can, under ideal circumstances, produce as many as 80 offspring in one year, according to a county press release.

Dommelen said that purchasing metal trash cans and making sure to pick up dog waste can make a big difference.

The county's rat eradication program began last April. It has treated more than 2,100 county residences so far under a five-year, $750,000 contact with a local exterminator at a cost of $8 per residence.

Daniel Purdie, or "Big Dan, the Pest Man," a licensed exterminator based in Gwynn Oak, contracted with the county, and was scheduled to begin targeting and treating rat burrows in Riverview Monday, Feb 11.

He injects the holes with a poisonous powder called Ditrac. Once the rats leave their burrows, it will get onto their fur and later kill them.

"In their normal grooming process, they will ingest this Ditrac powder and it will take about five to seven days to kill them," Dommelen said. "Typically, they tend to die in their burrows."

After the exterminator is done treating the area, the county will begin performing "trash sweeps" in an effort to prevent any recurrences and ticketing residents who are still not storing trash properly.

County representatives will inspect the area and issue tickets for four weeks following the first trash sweep. It's expected that continued monitoring will create positive changes in the community.

"We find that the number of tickets we issue decreases each week," Dommelen said, noting that residents adjust their trash disposal habits to be less rat-friendly.

Harriet Pitman, a Riverview resident, said that even after purchasing rat poison and setting traps, she is still seeing rats all around the neighborhood.

"I think we're keeping them down in the block here as best we can, but they're still coming in," Pitman said.

Pitman said she is relieved that the county is coming in to take over.

"It is terrible. They eat holes in the plastic trash cans," she said. "They're big, and they do need to be treated, and I'm glad they're getting out here to do something about it."

While Whitehead was disappointed with the length of time it took for Baltimore County to address the problem, Dommelen said communities were addressed based on number of complaints and accessibility to affected properties.

"There's a large part of the community which has overgrowth in the rear of the properties," Dommelen said of Riverview. "So that would make it very difficult for him (the exterminator) in the summertime."

First District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the area, has worked extensively with Whitehead to bring the program to Riverview.

"This is something that I know Ron's community has been wanting for a long time," Quirk said.

The Huntsmoor community of Arbutus had a rat eradication attack take place last August, according to a county release.

It did take longer than we had ideally hoped for, but it's finally moving forward," Quirk said, "I'm very happy that we can finally make this happen."