Rats in Sewers: What's the Rattiest City in America?

These little beady-eyed bandits are an unavoidable part of sewer work. How bad is the rat problem in your city?

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Ever since there have been sewers, there have been sewer rats. Fortunately, those little beady-eyed bandits stay subterranean most of the time. But on occasion, they pop up in homes … literally. And more specifically, in toilets. Nothing says, “homeowner horror” like opening a toilet lid and finding a waterlogged juvenile rat floating in the bowl.

We'll get to that in a minute.

No matter what your feelings are on the varmints, rats are an unavoidable part of sewer work. In New York, which is infamously known for its rat problem, it’s said the rat population exceeds the human population. The city aggressively works to control the problem, even going so far as geotagging rats to develop a rodent control map.

In Seattle, Wash., the King County municipal government leads the Seattle Sewer Baiting Program, which targets infestations. The program’s website gives specific instructions to city residents on what to do if a toilet rat is discovered. (Hint: You’ll need some liquid dish soap.)

The rats sometimes get into sewers through broken or faulty laterals. As part of the Seattle program, city crews pour colored dye into rat burrows to track breeches in the pipe. If the colored water shows up in a nearby sewer, the city recommends the homeowner hire a licensed contractor to repair the lateral.

Occasionally, rats pop up in toilets after heavy rain. Such was the case for a writer at The Oregonian newspaper, who had the distinct pleasure of finding a soggy rat in his Portland, Ore., basement toilet. There, a combined sewer system was partly to blame. The increased water flow during a heavy rain can push rats out of a main sewer system and into laterals, where they sometimes pop out of toilets. (See: “Rats in the toilet aren’t an urban legend: Oregon rains can force rodents into your home”)

“It’s not too common, but it does happen,” says Chris Wirth, manager for Portland’s Multnomah County Vector Control. “The sewer is the only way out and the rats just keep on going up and through the toilet.”

One solution is using a backflow preventer at the lateral. Backflow preventers, which also prevent sewage back ups, can stop critters from entering a home through the sewer.

But back to the rats. Some cities are definitely worse off than others when it comes to the varmints. In fact, Orkin recently released its annual “20 Rattiest Cities” list, which gave The Windy City of Chicago top honors. Here are the honorees of the not-so-coveted award:

The Top 20 Rattiest Cities

  1. Chicago
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Washington, D.C.-Hagerstown
  4. New York
  5. San Francisco-Oak-San Jose
  6. Seattle-Tacoma
  7. Detroit
  8. Cleveland-Akron-Canton
  9. Baltimore
  10. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale
  11. Dallas-Ft. Worth
  12. Denver
  13. Houston
  14. Atlanta
  15. Boston-Manchester
  16. Minneapolis-St. Paul
  17. Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto
  18. Syracuse
  19. Indianapolis
  20. Charlotte

What about you? Have you encountered sewer rats while performing maintenance or working on sewer lines? Have you had any experience with backlfow preventers? Let us know by emailing editor@mswmag.com.


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