GW’s pest problem

Freshman Stacey Minton caught a mouse in her Madison Hall room last semester. Then she caught another one. And another one.

In total, Minton has caught 16 dead mice in her suite-style double on 22nd Street since October. An average of one per week, Minton said she almost lost count of how many rodents had piled up in her room.

“We found small holes in the walls which were remedied by steel wool. But there was a huge hole in the wall in my suitemate’s room that wasn’t found until the beginning of December because it was hidden by the drawers,” she said.

It’s a problem that has consistently plagued the District – and in turn, GW’s urban campus.

But determining how to overcome the problem – or even if eliminating the pests is a possibility – has been cause for debate.

A college campus in an urban area makes Foggy Bottom a perfect place for rodents to call home, said Stewart Harper, chief executive officer of Atek Pest Management.

“In a University setting, you have things like beer cans in outside trash cans, food debris, trash cans that are overflowing.” Harper said. “You are also in an urban area, with the Metro underneath, very old sewer system and near Dupont Circle. You are in a prime location – the crossroads – for an area that is conducive to rodent infestation.”

Sophomore Serena Wong said she and her roommate were terrified to find four mice run through their JBKO room last week.

“I was worried that more mice would come back,” Wong said. “It seemed like there was a whole colony of mice in my room. One of my friends who lives in Munson has killed eight rats already.”

Wong said they submitted a service request to FIXit, who had not yet responded as of Saturday.

“This is unsanitary and unhealthy,” Wong said. “There was animal waste in my box of food.”

Juan Ibanez, assistant vice president for facilities at GW, said that when construction began on Square 54 last summer, there was an increase in rodent problems around campus as they fled the construction area. He also said they traditionally see an increase in complaints in the winter, as rodents move indoors looking for warmer environments.

“We understand rodents in our facilities can be a health issue and distraction to the mission of the University, so we are committed to reacting quickly and positively to these matters,” Ibanez said.

GW officials conduct daily inspections of building exteriors and treat common areas of residence halls once or twice a month, according to the Facilities Management Web site. Problems inside rooms or offices, however, are only treated on a case by case basis. The city’s Department of Health has implemented new approaches to rodent control such as assigning certified pest controllers to all the parts of the District, said Holiday Johnson, spokeswoman for the DoH. They are trained in the principles of integrated pest management, which tries to tackle the problem on a proactive, citywide level instead of just reacting to complaints, Johnson said.

In addition, the DoH has stationed code enforcement officers around D.C. that conduct daily inspections, looking for conditions that attract and support rats.

DoH officials cite recent mild winters as an explanation for higher rat populations, though one official said there have not been significantly more or less complaints this season.

Minton said the University was at times helpful with her problem, but also unreliable.

“As much as the University was a help, I felt like I had to keep on top of them. I was constantly e-mailing them to make sure they did not forget about our room,” Minton said.

Harper argued that treating individual rodent problems is not always sufficient.

“Putting boxes of poison out is not the answer to the problem,” he said. “In order for poison baits to be effective, the rodents have to compete with what other food sources are around. Maybe you will kill 70 out of 100 rats, but there are 30 still left. These 30 will breed and you will be back to where you started.”

To really tackle the root of the problem, Harper said, students need to be more cognizant of their surroundings.

“When you are dealing with rats you are really dealing with an environmental and cultural issue,” he said. “Students need to police themselves and not provide ample food and water sources because the rats then have conducive conditions to live. Carelessness of the community doesn’t help.”

Harper suggested the University should pay more attention to “tackling the issues regarding environment and surroundings.” This suggested greater distribution of educational materials to inform students of how to prevent pest problems or charging fines for rooms that are not up to pest control standards.

He said, “If people are creating problems that are making the infestation worse, there is no way this problem can be solved.”

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