Pest Control officer Gregory Cornes uses a duster to pump poison into rat burrows in Washington, D.C. (AP)

Pest Control officer Gregory Cornes uses a duster to pump poison into rat burrows in Washington, D.C. (AP)

Mr. Cornes is a Pest Control officer with the D.C. Department of Health Rodent Control Division. (AP)

Mr. Cornes is a Pest Control officer with the D.C. Department of Health Rodent Control Division. (AP)

Workers Gregory Cornes (left) and Andre Pitman search flowerbeds for rat burrows near the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (AP)

Workers Gregory Cornes (left) and Andre Pitman search flowerbeds for rat burrows near the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (AP)

Dry ice is scooped into rat burrows. As it evaporates, the CO2 replaces oxygen in the tunnels, choking out rats. (AP)

Dry ice is scooped into rat burrows. As it evaporates, the CO2 replaces oxygen in the tunnels, choking out rats. (AP)

Mild winters and a human population boom have fueled rat infestations in cities like Washington, D.C. (AP)

Mild winters and a human population boom have fueled rat infestations in cities like Washington, D.C. (AP)

Help! Rats!

Posted: March 4, 2019

At the pest control department in Washington, D.C., the phones are ringing off the hook. What are the callers saying? “WE HAVE RATS!”

Andre Pittman and Gregory Cornes work for the Health Department in Washington, D.C. Their target is Rattus Norvegicus, the common Norway rat. These rats have moved into the lap of luxury. They live right next to the Capitol building and the White House! Mr. Pittman and Mr. Cornes shovel dry ice pellets into rat burrows. As the dry ice melts, it turns into gaseous carbon dioxide, suffocating the rodents.

“Rats adapt to everything. They can be like geniuses,” Mr. Pittman says.

Mr. Cornes and Mr. Pittman poke around. They spot holes and dirt trails that signal rat burrows. Mr. Cornes uses an instrument like an extra-long Super Soaker. The tool squirts poison into a hole. Mr. Pittman watches to see if the white powder puffs up from other holes. He shovels in dirt to block those exits. At the office building next door, the crew receives a welcome from the security guard. The guard says the rats feast at the building’s garbage cans and scurry over employees’ feet. On M Street, Mr. Cornes and Mr. Pittman discover a network of burrows in a large planter box in front of an office building. They inject poison. The bushes shake as rats come running out! Mr. Cornes says: “We're winning.”

But are they? The pest control company Orkin ranks Washington as America’s fourth “Rattiest City.” The other rattiest spots are Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Camera footage from Washington, D.C., even shows a rat pulling a fire alarm, forcing people to evacuate an apartment building!