Because of the many issues surrounding the rodent infestation in Glen Park, on October 20th the Glen Park News interviewed Patrick Fosdahl, MS, REHS, Director of the Environmental Health Branch of the Department of Public Health (DPH).
Statement by DPH: The Department is prohibited by privacy laws from confirming if a person is receiving services or giving any details related to such services. The various divisions of the Department of Public Health do their best to connect people with services that will help them address their care needs. the Department’s care teams do their best to follow up with people who have engaged the Department in care.
The following is a transcript of the interview.
GPN: We realize rodents are ubiquitous in urban settings and can’t be eradicated completely. The “Birdseed Lady” has been a public nuisance and danger to health, spreading birdseed all over the neighborhood since February 2020, greatly exacerbating the problem. Her activities have involved responsibility among several city agencies: DPH, SFPD and the BART police. What coordination is there among these agencies? What is being done about the mental health issue? What other steps are being taken, for example relating to her residence, because she lives in our neighborhood and the whole neighborhood is affected?
DPH: We’re aware of the complaints around feeding birds in this area. We’re working with the San Francisco Police Department, BART and the City Attorney’s office to address the issue. We’re working together as each agency has jurisdiction over this issue of birdseed in a different area. So you may have heard that feeding birds on private property falls under the jurisdiction of the health department so we would address those, while feeding birds on public property falls under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Police Department, and birdseed on BART property is obviously going to be their responsibility. It’s a multi-jurisdictional approach to this issue based on where the birdseed is, and I think in this area it’s been all three of those areas. We’ve made referrals to those agencies when we see birdseed in those areas they have jurisdiction over and we’ve been having some meetings since around June to address the issue. As a result of the multiagency efforts, one person has been cited by the police and has been issued a cease-and-desist order by the City Attorney’s office. I can’t go into more details than that.
GPN: Recently DPH has been baiting sewers in the neighborhood. I was told by the health inspector that roof rats cause most of the problem and that sewer rats were mainly an issue at the BART station. Nevertheless, they were running tests on the neighborhood sewers. Will we be able to see their findings?
DPH: Yes. I think that the baiting shows that there has been some rodent activity in the sewers. Placing rodenticide in the sewers generally addresses sewer rats. However, we believe based on our observations that the sewers are not the primary source of the rat problem in this area. It’s roof rats and those are what you see running along wires, fences, and entries. Roof rats don’t typically go into the sewers and the droppings that we saw were predominantly found in those neighborhood areas. We have a report that we get from the pest control applicator and we can provide you with a copy of that. We’ve got a contract with the PUC and when we identify an area where we think there may be a major rodent issue, we’ll bring in the contractor to do the baiting of the sewers. We don’t bait sewers based on one complaint—we’d be running all over the city doing nothing but that all day. Once the rodenticide is put in place it needs to be observed over a period of time to see whether or not the sewer rats are actually eating the bait and, if they are, we’ll continue bait until there’s no more activity. We don’t just do that randomly. For the city we do it when we believe there could be an issue, which is why it’s happened in this place. Then we would have a report of where that baiting has occurred and as time goes by, that would build to determine how much activity is taking place and where. We can provide you with a list of locations where the baiting has occurred and what if any rodent activity they saw when they initially did the baiting.
GPN: Since roof rats are responsible for most of the infestation, what remedies are available? There’s a lot of concern about the use of poison because of the lethality to birds, pets, and other animals.
DPH: The best treatment for any rodent infestation is prevention. You would want to reduce the sources of food, water and harborage—those are the three things that a rat needs. Rats are omnivores; they eat virtually anything organic with nutritional value. So, food scraps, grains, seeds, nuts, vegetables. Amazingly, rats will eat about five percent of their body weight in food each day. For roof rats this means people should be rapidly harvesting fruit trees; not allowing fruit to be left on the ground; trimming trees and shrubs back, especially ivy—typically creating around a twelve- to eighteen-inch space of open ground between the shrubs and the building or utility poles. Rats don’t like to be out in those exposed areas. You want a gap to keep them away from exposed areas of your home. Don’t leave pet food or water out. Seal any opening to rooftop areas or attic spaces. Remove unnecessary sources of water. Things like leaking hose bibs and sprinkler systems are great sources of water for rats. We recommend that poison only be applied by licensed pest control companies—you can get it at hardware stores but it’s best to have a pest control company manage it.
GPN: Regarding Canyon Market, the owners say they’d been trying to get help and advice on rodent infestation from DPH and other agencies for 2-1/2 years. They’d brought it to the attention of the board of the Glen Park Association in May 2020. It is still unclear why there seemed to be little response over time, yet their business was shut down last month after, as we understand it, one 311 complaint. Can you shed any light on what was going on? The owners would like you to know that communication has improved and they value your help and advice.
DPH: That’s great. We’ve been addressing the issue of rodents in the Glen Park area for almost three years. When we receive a complaint we generally respond to all complaints within about 48 hours. Having said that, we’ve responded to numerous complaints over the past two-and-a-half years. Some of them are directed to the Department of Public Health as well as other departments, as well as referrals from other agencies. These include the police department. We also coordinate with the City Attorney’s office and BART. The complaints have varied. Some are about rodents on private property or public property. Some are about behaviors neighbors believe are driving rats into the public. Some are just general complaints when somebody sees a rodent running on a wire in somebody’s yard, they’ll let us know. We continue to work with other city departments. We feel that a multiagency response to address the complaint is generally the best, especially given the jurisdictional boundaries that I spoke about earlier. As you indicated, rats are present in every neighborhood in San Francisco. They can thrive in areas with multiple food sources. That can cause the population to grow and that’s typically when you start to see them out in the open. They don’t usually want to be out in the open; that’s dangerous for them. They typically come out at night so if you see them running around out in the open, that’s an indication that the population is too large. Rats can live off the natural food sources. This includes wooded and park areas like you have in Glen Park, without being a nuisance.
GPN: Do you have anything specific to Canyon Market or other food establishments in the area?
DPH: We can talk about the two complaints we got about the market and how we’re obligated to respond to it. It may be how these stores need to control their environment. In San Francisco we have about 7,000 permitted food facilities. We conduct routine inspections of those facilities once or twice a year and we respond to complaints for those facilities. In Canyon Market’s case we did get a complaint that there was rodent activity there. We conducted an inspection, and we were able to verify that the complaint was indeed true. I think there were droppings on food and surfaces in the facility. When that happens, we will ask that facility to close until they’re able to address the issue involving rodents, because rodents carry all kinds of diseases when people eat food that’s been contaminated with it. That would be true in a market, a restaurant, any number of places. We have maybe two or three closures a week and it could be around a variety of issues but rodents are an issue we address that way because we really want to make sure it’s been addressed before they’re allowed to reopen.
GPN: Canyon Market was allowed to reopen the very next day, so did they resolve the issue?
DPH: We don’t want to have people close as a punishment. It’s meant to give them time to address the issue. In this case they were very rapidly able to bring in a licensed pest control company to rodent proof the building. As I understand, there were some openings and gaps that would allow rodents to gain entry. They also went about trapping and baiting in those areas and removing any contamination. You can imagine there’s great motivation for any restaurant owner or marketplace to want to address things quickly and get back in business and we’d like to see them back in business as well.
GPN: Construction causes an increase in rodent activity. In Glen Park there are two long term projects going on adjacent to the commercial hub. Is there any way DPH, working with the building department, can give food establishments (especially) a heads up about construction projects, perhaps by notifying and educating the neighborhood merchants associations?
DPH: Large scale construction will disturb rodents and can increase their activity in an area. We’ve worked with the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) before, but I think this is a good opportunity to take another look at how we work with DBI around new construction. DBI posts permits in neighborhoods before work begins but we certainly can take another look at a way to improve that.
GPN: Do you have materials to educate our community about rodent infestations? Maybe you can provide something which we can publicize. You are also welcome to present at our quarterly neighborhood association meeting. The next one will be in January. We can send you an invitation and you can send a representative?
DPH: Yes to all of that. We do have handouts and brochures. Like I said, prevention is the best way to address the rodent issue. The more information we can get out there, the better, so we’d be more than happy to do that.