The State Worker

Battling rats at the CalEPA headquarters: poison, traps and hourly patrols

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Construction is well underway on the state of California's new Natural Resources Building. Drone video from Thursday, June 13, 2019, shows the progress on the 20-story, $520 million building scheduled for completion in fall 2021.

By the end of June, CalEPA had ordered security guards to conduct hourly patrols of a courtyard where rats were breeding and burrowing and getting closer to the agency’s building at 1001 I Street.

An agency undersecretary announced the measure in a June 28 email, the third in a series detailing an escalating infestation attributed to construction in the downtown area.

Cleaning up trash and debris hadn’t kept the rats away. Wire mesh screens hadn’t prevented their burrowing. An array of snap traps couldn’t keep up with the rodents’ growing numbers, according to the email.

By the end of the month, rat activity was approaching the building’s doors and a cafe, according to the emails. A children’s play yard was closed after it was identified as “the hub where most rodents have been trapped.”

So undersecretary Serena McIlwain ordered the patrols, along with poison. But not the same poison the agency had tried 11 days earlier.

The emails show a month-long effort by the agency that regulates pesticides and other toxic substance to root out a rodent infestation in its own headquarters.

The agency would not say this week whether it is still battling the rats.

Agency spokeswoman Sheryl Watson also wouldn’t say this week whether the childcare area has reopened.

“CalEPA is committed to protecting the health and safety of the public, our employees, and their children. When we learned of a rat problem in our building’s exterior courtyard and childcare play yard, we took action with non-toxic pest management measures,” she said. “When those measures did not solve the problem, we consulted experts and determined that protecting the children from rodent-borne diseases required the additional step of applying a rodenticide with strict safety procedures to protect human health and other wildlife.”

McIlwain’s updates show the agency put poisoned bait blocks in locked containers outside the building on Monday, June 17. The agency abruptly stopped using that poison two days later, the emails show.

“We will continue to monitor the situation daily and will work aggressively to find effective less toxic alternatives,” McIlwain said in a June 19 email. “As always, we are open to hearing about your ideas and ask that you forward any (pest management) ideas to the building management.

Lots of young rats were showing up in traps, indicating that “the breeding adult rodents are still active.”

In response, the agency deployed “an alternative first-generation rodenticide,” placing it in plastic bags the rats could chew through but which would minimize spare bits lying around, according to the June 28 email. And the security guards on rat patrol would “identify and isolate rodents, which will greatly reduce the likelihood of contact with other animals,” according to the email.

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