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Health Department Tries To Terminate The Rats, Not The Eagles In Pittsburgh

The rats have to go – but leave the eagles alone.

That’s the problem the Allegheny County Health Department is facing while taking measures to terminate the rat infestation at the abandoned Pittsburgh Recycling Plant in Hazelwood.

GGMJS Property LLC, a holding company, bought the site and now has the responsibility to get rid of the rats.

However, Pittsburgh’s newest eagle family in more than 150 years is located less than a mile away, and they could die if they consume one of the poisoned rodents.

Health Department Director Karen Hacker said the Audubon Society and Wildlife Commission are helping them frame a strategy to deal with the infestation that is safe for all involved – except the rats.

“We are trying to find the most environmentally sensitive way of decreasing this rat population with our first priority being the humans, obviously, but trying to do it in an environmentally sensitive way so that we minimize the risks to both the humans, pets…and wildlife as well,” Hacker said.

Jim Thompson, the Deputy Director of Environmental Health, said they are looking into poisons that are less likely to harm the birds.

“Materials based upon vitamin D actually are the least toxic to birds because birds have hollow bones, so vitamin D attacks the calcium in the bones and transmits that to the soft tissues and causes organ failure,” Thompson said. “That’s the mechanism by which this works.”

He said zinc phosphide also has low toxicity to birds, but it has high water toxicity, so they’d have to be careful where it would be applied.

“You have to make sure that the minimum amount it applied and that’s applied directly at the borough,” Thompson said.  “It’s also critical that any dead carcasses are picked up daily so that there’s no scavenging by any birds of prey or whatnot.”

He said GGMJS has been cooperative, and he expects they will continue to be so.

“We certainly are currently working with them to get the exact language in our consent agreement with them, and we’ll be doing some onsite surveillance and other activities during the vector control program,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the effort to clean up the plant will start about five days after closing – which he expects to happen within the next week.

“It’s very important we do this early, because as soon as we start removing that food source of the rodents and start activity in the area, the rodents will want to go into Hazelwood,” Thompson said. “So we want to make sure we kill them before they go out into the residential area.”

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.