Rodent Exclusion Control in Public Housing Projects
David Bennett | July 12, 2019 | Public Health
There are a lot of stories in the news daily about rodent control issues that government public housing projects and municipal pest control programs in the United States face in the ongoing war we wage daily with rodents and other pests. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an essential tool in pest management practices that serves to protect the public health in housing. Why is this important? Rats and mice contaminate food and cooking
areas with shedding of their fur, urine trails and feces. Rat burrowing can cause streets and structures to collapse. Their constant gnawing does considerable property damage, including power outages, Internet blackouts, computer crashes, fires, and human deaths. The Department of Public Health in the State of Illinois estimates that 25% of all fires attributed to “unknown causes” were caused by rodents chewing on wires, gas lines, and matches. Rodents spread over 30 diseases communicable and potentially fatal to humans including leptospirosis, rat lungworm disease, hantavirus and the bubonic plague. Finally, affordable housing in this era of housing shortage is critical, and a typical large city in the United States averages about 10,000 rodent complaints per year. Residents don’t want to live where there are rats. Inefficient rodent control methods costs property owners and taxpayers’ money. In this article we will be looking at how Integrated Pest Management, with a focus on exclusion, is implemented.
Rodent Control and Public Health Issues
The most recent assessment done in 2015 of local rodent control programs by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NAACHO) partnered with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) invited nine organizations from diverse cities to participate. Six cities who are currently on the Orkin Rattiest Cities for 2018 index participated—Washington DC (#4), New Orleans, (#29), New York City, (#3), Philadelphia (#7), San Francisco (#5), and Los Angeles, (#2). The other cities who participated were Austin, TX, Shelby County, TN and Multnomah County, OR. These municipalities were assessed on best practices, challenges, and technical assistance needs. What they found was this:
- Most of the programs are funded through local funding. Only two are funded through service fees (Los Angeles and Shelby County, TN)
- At that time, NAACHO found that funding for vector control either decreased, or remained the same the previous five years. For programs that decreased, pest control personnel were cut. In Los Angeles, the personnel cuts meant that owners of properties who had previously gotten free rodent control services from the city now had to pay a fee for services per call.
- All programs are mainly complaint based, rather than scientifically studied which maynot provide reliable data as to where the critical infestations are
- None of the programs tracked rat borne illnesses or rodent related injuries or bites. Most did depend on data from state epidemiological agencies.
- Not all programs have the capacity to capture rodents, test for pathogens, or look for ectoparasites.
- Some programs were found to be more proactive than others in conducting inspections, baiting, and rat proofing.
Standardization of Rodent Control Practices on the Federal and Local Levels
Public housing is administered through the federal government’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency. HUDadministers Federal aid to local housing agencies (HAs) that manage the housing for low-income residents. More than 7 million families have lived in locally managed, HUD supported properties. Currently 4.3 million people live in public housing or benefit from HUD housing programs. HUD describes the public housing experience: “Actually the public housing experience takes many different forms. There are approximately 1.2 million households living in public housing units, managed by some 3,300 HAs. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers Federal aid to local housing agencies (PHAs) that manage the housing for low-income residents at rents they can afford. HUD furnishes technical and professional assistance in planning, developing and managing these developments.” HUD requires that Integrated Pest Management be implemented in each public housing complex managed by PHAs and requires residents and contractors to comply with IPM practices.
What is Integrated Pest Management?
According to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Program, “IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on
long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties. Pesticides are used only after monitoring indicates they are needed according to established guidelines, and treatments are made with the goal of removing only the target organism. Pest control materials are selected and applied in a manner that minimizes risks to human health, beneficial and nontarget organisms, and the environment.” Entomologists, plant pathologists, nematologists and weed scientists form the scientific basis behind IPM. For more information about the history of IPM, click here.
How does IPM work?
IPM requires regular inspections of outside perimeter of building to ensure any holes or cracks in the foundation are repaired so rodents and other pests can’t get in. Documentation of inspections is key to identify problem areas so that available resources such as snap traps, can be concentrated in problem areas to increase effective eradication. Other questions IPM answers include: Are shrubs, trees and grass trimmed back so that they don’t provide shelter for rodents? Is trash and food waste picked up and outside areas kept clean to avoid providing rodents with food and water sources? Are pest issues being catalogued and tracked in the office, so you know where the problems have been in the past and where to target most effectively for existing problems? Are bait stations enclosed and only as many put out as is needed to deal with any infestations? Are the property managers working with a pest control company that partners with them and helps them design and implement an IPM plan that works for all public buildings’ and tenants’ unique needs whether that be a plan to use containment and exclusion strategies such as door sweeps along with traps and bait stations? Pesticides are the last resort when everything else has been tried.
How HUD Mandated IPM is Administered on the State and Local Levels
Each state public health agency and local municipality administers their rodent control programs differently depending on the amount of funding available and degree of infestation. Generally though, this is how states and localities try to administer IPM:
Federal, States and localities recognize that education about Integrated Pest Management practices is key whether educating residents of HUD homes, to community outreach to all city residents. The NAACHO report underlines this concept in stating they found all nine municipalities that participated had comprehensive rodent education programs available to its citizens from New Orleans’s Pest Control Academy toWashington DC’s “Rat Summit,” and live public Web chats with citizens. Austin, TX also educates its population with an eye towards it large Spanish speaking population, disseminating leaflets and other informational materials in Spanish. New York City has a Rat Academy that provides free community training in rodent control practices with a 3 day course designed specifically for pest control professionals.
Environmental conditions are considered also in order to design an IPM program that is right for each housing complex managed by PHAs. Residents in public housing are encouraged to report rodent problems immediately so that the problem can be contained quickly and efficiently. Regular inspections and repairs to property are done, and garbage properly disposed of in dumpsters or city provided sealed garbage cans.
Traps and bait stations seem to be control methods of choice, environmentally friendly (poisons in bait stations are sealed so children, pets none target animals find it more difficult to access it, although the collateral damage in terms of what eats the poisoned rodents after they leave bait station is a factor to be considered.) Trap catches are an accurate form of assessment of actual rodent populations.
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In speaking about the exclusion component, public housing includes exclusion in the forms of repairing holes where rodents can potentially get in, whether it be in windows, foundations, or pipes, and filling in burrow holes in yards, keeping grass short, and cutting back trees and controlling doors. The Department of Public Health in Illinois, for instance, recommends “Doors should be kept closed, should clear floors by no more than ¼-inch and have metal kick plates attached to prevent rodents from gnawing on them. Twelve-inch metal collars can be attached to support poles, pillars and vertical pipes to prevent rodents from climbing them. Exterior vents and floor drains should be covered with screens or grates sufficient to exclude rodents, and spaces around drains should be filled with cement.” These recommendations are quite similar in most cities. In terms of policies of PHAs managing HUD funded complexes, it is largely the tenant’s responsibility to report damage to the unit and to keep the unit clean and free of trash, and to put trash in city approved rodent proof trash cans, and most importantly, to report rodent problems quickly to the PHA. This is for IPM documentation and is essential to not only eradication but future exclusionary prevention measures.
In this paper we have discussed public housing issues, and IPM practices. While HUD requires IPM pest management practices, the practices are
adapted and implemented according to each housing complex’s unique environmental and resident needs. That means that each municipality has unique ways of interpreting IPM practices which may depend directly on how much funding is allocated through HUD and the state to the local levels for public housing, affecting pest control personnel, and which factors in integrated pest management are concentrated on and which are not. Clearly, more rodent research is needed in each PHA managed housing complex in order to accurately assess infestations, and steps necessary to eradicate rodents and exclusion steps needed to prevent future infestations. As the Illinois Dept of Public Health notes“Responsibilities assigned to city departments vary from city to city, and several departments may be sharing the various responsibilities of rodent management. The city’s water/sewer authority is responsible for inspecting and perhaps managing rodents in sewers. The public works department may be responsible for trash removal and maintenance of trash containers and trash collection facilities. The city housing authority might be charged with maintaining rodent and vegetation control programs on public properties and with overseeing municipal pest management contracts. Parks and recreation departments may dispose of trash and conduct rodent and vegetation control for public facilities. And the local department of public health should provide public information on pest and pest-borne disease control, along with technical support for pest abatement and pest-related enforcement.” Integration and team formation is critical to the safe and effective pest management programs of PHAs in conjunction with those of cities and state public health departments.
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