By Angie Latham Kozlowski
A pair of power outages the first weekend in April at the Food Lion on Sandy Spring Road resulted in an overflowing dumpster and may have contributed to a spike in rats in the area. WUSA9 News reported on the incident in an April 17 newscast that captured the frustration of neighbors living near the store.
Audrey Barnes, director of communications for the city of Laurel, said that officials learned about the matter in an April 5 email from a resident. Inspectors from the city’s Department of the Fire Marshal and Permit Services went to the store to investigate.
The inspectors saw no rats on the premises during the inspection, and they found the Food Lion management to be actively taking steps to clean up areas where the dumpsters are located. Marcus Butler, manager of the store, has taken additional steps to clean pavement and install new locks on the dumpster perimeter fence. He has also taken measures to lock the dumpsters themselves to discourage people from dumpster diving or illegal dumping.
On May 2, Lisa Crawford, Food Lion Corporate communications specialist, listed additional measures the store had taken in an email, including: obtaining a new waste grease container with a steel lid; upgrading and servicing the exterminator bait station; and changing the trash service schedule to twice-a-week pickup instead of the previous once a week.
According to Barnes, Food Lion provided proof of the store’s rodent control measures to city inspectors. “Food Lion was very responsive. We are happy with their response, and now the residents have to do their part, and we’re here to help,” she said.
As part of the city’s response to complaints about the rats, inspectors went door-to-door at homes closest to the store, handing out copies of the city’s rodent control guide and encouraging neighbors to work together to eradicate the pests. The guide, which can be found on the city’s website, offers detailed instructions on how to approach infestations and discusses steps residents can take to prevent or eliminate rats on their property. The guide, which is being translated into Spanish, is available at cityoflaurel.org.
Rat infestations are not unusual in the city and are best addressed if residents work cooperatively to mitigate them. Down the road from Food Lion, resident Catherine Simmons lost last year’s garden to rats, she said. Outdoor cats used to keep the rodents from her Sandy Spring Road neighborhood, she said, but several died, and the rats returned. She was not aware of the recent rat sightings near the Food Lion, but had seen bait boxes and an occasionally overflowing dumpster there.
A parent of young children, Simmons is concerned about the possible health issues rats might signal. She does not allow her children to go barefoot outside and has them wash their hands when they come in from playing in the yard. As for her garden, this year she intends to stick with herbs and greens that are less appealing to the rats. No home-grown corn, cucumbers, tomatoes or melons.
Simmons and her husband have hired an exterminator to address their rat problem, but she recognizes the need for a community response as well. She noted that some of her neighbors have reported seeing rats but is unsure if they’ll collectively take action. She plans to take some of the steps mentioned in the city’s guide, such as trimming up bushes and clearing the ground under them. She also said she hopes that the city will take actions to help homeowners and that officials would consider options for exterminating the rodents.