Rats rule many New York playgrounds

- So many rats scurried around the Diana Ross playground in Central Park near West 81st Street on Tuesday afternoon that kids were counting them. Parents say that has been the norm all summer.

"If you come towards the afternoon you see a lot of them running when it's getting darker outside… it's kind of gross," Lucy Torres said.

Video from one mom shows a large rat in the sandbox at the Neufeld Playground in Riverside Park.

"It's a safety concern," said Upper West Side mom Karen Messing. "They're emboldened, they're all over the parks… it's broad daylight, the playgrounds are full and the rats are running around."

And not just on the West Side. Fox 5 saw rats scampering around the Billy Johnson Playground at East 67th Street, too.

"There are kids around, [the city] should definitely be paying attention and take care of that," said parent JoJo Fleiss.

The New York City Parks Department said it is diligently working to address rodents in parks.

One of the reasons for the uptick in the rat population is that the city doesn't use poisonous bait from March through August out of concern for the safety of nesting raptors.

The Parks Department said that during the hiatus it has increased trash pickups in Riverside Park and laid more mechanical traps. But that doesn't seem to be keeping the rats away.

"It's not working," said Messing.  "There are rat burrows literally outside the playground. So it's just a matter of time before a child gets bitten."

City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal represents District 6 on the Upper West Side and said her office has been fielding many calls and emails about the problem.

"The uptick this year since the spring has been huge," Rosenthal said. She added that part of the problem is the playgrounds have old wire trash cans, which rats can easily get inside.

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a $32 million effort to eradicate rat strongholds in parts of the Bronx and Manhattan, in part by using new trash cans, but the plan doesn't include the parks uptown.

 

Rosenthal has secured about $80,000 in funding for special Big Belly trash cans to be placed in Riverside Park, but their deployment could still be months away. 

"It can take a really long time and I do find that very frustrating," Rosenthal said.

The city has also recently gotten approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to start using dry ice to kill the rats. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene did pilot tested the dry ice in Tompkins and Columbus parks last year and was able to reduce rat burrows by 100 percent. 

In the meantime, Rosenthal is urging people who see rats in playgrounds to call 311.

The Parks Department said statement: "Parks is diligently working to address rodents in parks—including deploying 90 Big Belly trash cans, provided by DOHMH, in Manhattan and the Bronx. To help us with our efforts, it's important to note that depriving them of food is key; we encourage New Yorkers to properly dispose their trash."

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