Experts say population will explode if garbage strike continues





Garbage spills out of dumpsters in an alley off Columbia Street between East Hastings and East Pender streets in the Downtown Eastside yesterday. The city’s ongoing garbage strike has raised the concern that more trash on the streets and in alleys could lead to an increase in the number of rats and mice.


“They are not a public health risk, they are vermin.”

The rats are coming.

They’re feeding on all the garbage lying around because of the municipal workers strike and breeding like ... well, rats! A local exterminator warns that if the strike persists there will be a spike in the rodent population that will be noticed in about one month.

“We are frightened that more will come,” Liyaqat Ali of Orkin PCO, a pest control company, said yesterday.

More garbage means more food, which in turn means more rats and mice will survive the litter, explained Ali.

So they will come, but it will take time.

Mice and rats gestate for around three weeks. They can give birth to about five to as many as 12 animals at a time.

Earlier this month, the chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health warned that a four- to five-week strike could result in a four- or five-fold increase in the number of rats.

John Blatherwick told media that people had to start cutting down on the volume of garbage.

As the garbage continues to pile up, rodent sightings are likely to increase, said Brett Johnston of Canadian Pest Control.

“What typically happens is you see them more often, because there’s more out looking for food,” Johnston said.

Also, unlike in other Canadian cities with harsh winters, more rats survive Vancouver’s mild winter.

Hardest hit will likely be the Downtown Eastside where alleys are strewn with refuse.

Health problems were “already a catastrophe,” said David Cunningham, of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association.

And now, “people continue to live back there (in alleys with dumpsters),” he said.

Viviana Zanocco, senior media relations officer at Vancouver Coastal Health, said that if the garbage accumulates and becomes a health risk, the medical health officer has the authority to interfere and order it picked up — a situation that has never occurred in Canada.

“They are not a public health risk, they are vermin,” she said of the rodents.

They also chew phone and cable lines, and some have chewed electrical wires and caused fires, Ali said. He added that it has all happened before.

Ali said he remembers that his phone rang 20 to 30 per cent more during Vancouver’s last garbage strikes in 1997 and 2000.