John Stellberger of EHS Pest Services addresses residents at a June 8 forum at Memorial Hall. Wicked Local Photo / Aaron Leibowitz
In response to a surge in rat sightings around Melrose, the health department has hired EHS Pest Services to advise the city and to place dry ice in open-air rat burrows on public property.
At a community meeting Wednesday, June 8 at Memorial Hall, John Stellberger of EHS said dry ice is the most environmentally friendly way to kill rats and is being employed in major cities around the country.
“It’s humane,” Stellberger said.
Stellberger told the Free Press his company plans to deploy dry ice for several consecutive days in the early morning at all public locations where rat burrows are spotted.
Health Director Ruth Clay has asked the Board of Aldermen to approve a line-item transfer of $1,000 to pay the consultant.
Clay has also requested $10,000 for three enclosed rodent-proof trash barrels to place at the Common Playground, similar to the solar-powered “Big Belly” barrels used on Main Street. The barrels cost $3,200 apiece, Clay said.
The health department first became aware of the spike in rat activity in late May. It was around that time that residents posted photos online of a garbage can overflowing at the Common Playground.
Asked by a resident what she planned to do with the approximately 10 open trash barrels currently at the playground, Clay said the city would likely remove them.
Following a presentation by Stellberger, Clay summarized the city’s response to complaints over the past two weeks.
First, Clay said, she reached out to officials in Cambridge who recommended that Melrose consult EHS Pest Services.
Next, she had EHS representatives walk the area around East Foster and First streets, talking to residents about recent rat sightings.
“They were able to give us some ideas of what the issues were in that neighborhood,” Clay said.
For burrows on public property, the health department has responded with both short-term treatment and long-term exclusion measures. Clay added that the department has also offered to survey private property and give advice, although only a licensed pest control operator can administer treatment.
Furthermore, Clay said, the health department plans to urge food establishments to properly dispose of trash as the department visits businesses during its regular relicensing process in the coming days.
“Everybody is getting reminded again about their solid waste, whether it’s trash barrels or Dumpsters,” Clay said.
Several of the approximately 40 residents at last Wednesday’s meeting suggested businesses need to be more mindful of their waste disposal habits, especially downtown.
Clay told the Free Press the health department does not typically issue fines for improper trash disposal before giving a warning, but said the department has issued fines before.
“Every trash barrel on Main Street is overflowing,” said Katy Kennedy, who lives on Mount Vernon Ave. near downtown. “The Department of Public Works has got to send somebody out.”
Stellberger did not seem to think the problems in Melrose were unique or particularly severe, noting that the entire East Coast has been “exploding with rats” of late. The mild winter likely played a role, allowing a host of animals – including rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks – to survive into the warmer months.
But human behavior is the main culprit, Stellberger said, and accessible trash is “ground zero” for rat activity. The best way to keep rats away, along with direct control measures, is to deny their access to food.
“Populations get large because we allow it to happen,” Stellberger said.
The Norway rat, which is what’s typically seen in Melrose, prefers dark, shadowy landscape plantings and a roof overhead, and can easily adapt to nesting in a wall or a ceiling cavity. It feeds on a variety of foods, such as fruits, nuts, birds and earthworms.
Stellberger outlined a handful of measures residents can take to manage rat activity – denying easy access to food, using plantings that are not rat-friendly, trimming tall grass, using snap traps, and installing stainless steel or crushed stone in areas vulnerable to nesting.
Rodenticide baits are less effective, Stellberger said, and can take weeks to kill rats.
Ultimately, Stellberger hammered home the point that rat populations are directly related to available food. Rat control is a community problem, he said, with community solutions.
“There is no magic bullet,” Stellberger said. “It’s all of us human beings working together to make our homes and neighborhoods safe.”
To contact the health department, call 781-979-4130 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.