The next time you see rats roaming around public housing units in New York City, think of Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. He and a handful of his colleagues in other states are working hard to make the city's public housing safe—for rats, mice, cockroaches and other city "wildlife."
Working with a collection of green activists, Spitzer and five other state attorneys general recently announced that they might sue the feds for using pesticides in public housing—poor, minority families living in vermin-infested buildings not withstanding.
The AGs claim they want to promote "integrated pest management," which just means using a variety of means to control pests—including pesticide use. But these taxpayer-funded "consumer advocates" seem more interested in their own irrational quest to eliminate chemicals.
Advocating the opposite is the National Organization of African-Americans in Housing (NOAAH)—a nonprofit consumer-advocacy group promoting healthy housing for minority groups. The organization explains on its Web site 1) that proper use of pesticides can help control health problems that plague many low-income and minority households, and 2) that Environmental Protection Agency's regulations on pesticides keep public-exposure levels so low that the risk of proper use of these products is tiny.
In contrast, household pests are among the top three "most serious threats facing minority and low-income people living in urban areas today," notes NOAAH. And George Washington University's Center for Public Health reports that nearly half of the nation's poor children live in housing with dangerous pest infestations.
Cockroach infestations are a particularly serious contributor to the nation's allergy and asthma problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 6 million children suffered from asthma in 2000 and about 4 million suffered asthma attacks.
According to the CDC, asthmas disproportionately affect poor, minority children living in the inner city, and cockroach-related allergies are among the most common and problematic. These kids miss school more often, have more emergency medical visits, and lose more sleep than do kids with other kinds of allergies.
Rats also are a common problem for poor, urban minority children according to Dr. Pamela Nagami, author of the new book "Bitten: True Medical Stories of Bites and Stings." Doctors in a Los Angeles Hospital, she reports, tallied the number of rat bites they treated over a three-year period and found that all the patients were either Hispanic or African-American.
Nagami says that rats, which are carriers of more than 70 diseases, commonly bite the faces and hands of children under 5 years old while these kids are asleep in their homes.
The thought that many American children find themselves literally in bed with rats chewing on their faces or that cockroach allergens send children gasping for air to hospital emergency rooms is sad enough. But the fact that taxpayer-funded legal "advocates" are positioning to deprive poor, minority children of a key line of defense against these horrors is simply unbelievable.