The rats are coming to Atlanta, study says

Rat trapper James Rennick Jr. saw the problem when he pulled up at the house in an upscale northwest Atlanta neighborhood; trash piled up in the backyard.

That, he said, is one of the reasons Atlanta ranks second in the country for risk of rat infestation.

“And it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” Rennick said Wednesday between appointments.

Only New York City ranked above Atlanta in a study conducted by d-Con, a pest control company. The other nine cities on this year's list also were among the top 10 in 2007; El Paso was bumped this year to make room for Atlanta.

“Atlanta’s high ranking in this latest evaluation stems from greater urban areas of poverty, a very high foreclosure rate – nearly five times the national survey average – and a much lower city spend[ing] on structures and highways,” according to Bruce Colvin, one of the two researchers on the d-Con study.

Rennick said people get most of the blame, however.

“Trash piled in the backyard…Leaving food out at night. Not putting trash in metal cans,” Rennick said.

“With most pests, we provide them with the things they need to survive,” said Shane Hill, entomologist and training specialist with Atlanta-based Orkin Inc., another pest control company.

Hill said while it’s still too early in the season to report an increase in rat infestations,. But at the same time Orkin is predicting 10 percent to 15 percent more calls this winter, a bump Hill attributes to the large number of empty, foreclosed houses in Atlanta.

The d-Con report was based on a “predictive approach” that used U.S. Census data on unemployment and foreclosure filings and other factors such as climate, money spent to maintain a city’s infrastructure and pest control sales.

New York – No. 1 in 2007 – remained in the top spot primarily because of the density of the city’s population and because of the age of its infrastructure. Population density also put Chicago and Boston in spots six and seven, respectively.

The other cities on the list – Houston, Louisville, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Milwaukee and Detroit – got there either because of their lush vegetation, their deteriorated and sometimes neglected infrastructure and the heavy sewer flows in those cities.

The experts warn that rats can gnaw through metal, plastic and wood and once inside they will damage walls, furniture and electrical wiring.

At the same time, their droppings aggravate allergies, the rodents spread diseases to humans and they bite people, especially small children.

They are more likely to be found in the attic than in a basement.

Experts suggest:

-- Checking for places rats can get inside. Look for openings in ducts or in the house foundation that provide a way inside. Fill in cracks or other openings with steel wool or plastic.

-- Stocking up on baits and traps, but avoid electronic and ultrasonic rodent-repellant devices that don’t work as promised.

-- Removing brush from around the house and trimming any overgrown hedges and plants.

-- Picking up any fruit that has fallen off trees to the ground.

-- Getting rid of newspaper bundles or old boxes stored in attics or basements because those provide ideal nesting spots. Clean kitchen counters of crumbs, wash dirty dishes and store opened food in airtight containers. Don’t leave pet food or treats out overnight.