Andre Pittman and Gregory Cornes are on a mission to rid Washington of opportunistic vermin. But their target isn't corrupt officials or shady political fixers; it's Rattus Norvegicus, the common Norway Rat. The nation's capital is facing a spiraling rat infestation, fueled by mild winters and a human population boom. Washington's government is struggling to keep pace, with the pest control department fielding a record number of calls. On one recent day, Pittman and Cornes, both veteran Health Department employees, worked within sight of the Capitol, shoveling dry ice pellets into suspected rat burrow entrances. On another, they were dealing with an outbreak about six blocks north of the White House. "Rats adapt to everything. They can be like geniuses," Pittman says.
The pest control company Orkin ranks Washington as America's fourth "Rattiest City," based on the number of new service calls per year. That's up one spot from the previous year and just behind Los Angeles and New York; Chicago has been ranked No. 1 for four consecutive years. Gerard Brown, head of Washington's rodent control department, says a string of gentle winters has enabled the rodents to breed constantly, the AP reports. DC is also in the midst of a gentrification-fueled economic and population boom. Brown says the number of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops has increased 25% in two years. "More people with more money means more restaurants, which means more garbage, which means more rat food," Brown says. (The district is also trying to count all its cats.)