HILLSIDE, NJ — Those nasty rodents keep popping up in Hillside — but now the state may be on the case.
Someone in Hillside is telling tales out of school, it seems.
The state’s Department of Health’s Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Program sent a letter last week to Hillside, stating that a complaint was made to their department and citing a notice of health hazards at town hall.
LocalSource has obtained a copy of the Nov. 28 notice, mailed to the clerk’s office at town hall. The letter cites “alleged mice and droppings affecting entire building and paint chips found around windows.”
Although the letter states that there has been no official determination of a rodent issue at town hall, it does ask that a full and complete investigation into the allegations be conducted. “We have not determined whether the hazards, as alleged, exist at your workplace,” reads the letter. “However, since allegations of violations and/or hazards have been made, we request that you immediately investigate the alleged conditions and make any necessary corrections or modifications.”
The state is also asking the township to provide documentation of findings, including any applicable measurements or monitoring results, photographs/video, as well as a description of any corrective action taken by the township.
The letter is not a citation or notification of a proposed penalty, which, according to the PEOSH Act, can be issued after an inspection or investigation of the complaint has been conducted. “Please take immediate corrective action where needed,” reads the letter. “We encourage employee participation in investigating and responding to any alleged hazard.”
The township has 15 business days to respond to PEOSH indicating that appropriate action has been taken or that no hazard exists and why. If no response is received, the letter reads, a PEOSH inspection may be conducted, which may include a review of injury and illness records, hazard communication, personal protective equipment, emergency action and response, bloodborne pathogens and other related health issues.
The township has also been directed to post a copy of the letter where it will be readily accessible for review by all township employees.
While it is not known who put in the complaint to the health department, the allegations against the township could have been made by any number of Hillside employees who have been complaining about the rat and mouse infestation for months.
Township employees and several officials have reported mouse and rat sightings, as well as rodent droppings, throughout town hall and the police department, as well as outside of town hall and the surrounding area.
A representative for the mayor told LocalSource that he would ask Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson about the rodent issue cited by the state’s letter. As of press time, LocalSource had not yet received a response from the mayor or her representative.
A proliferation of rats and mice seems to be an issue throughout the township as well, as many residents have complained about rodents on or around their properties.
Arthur Kobitz, president of Hillside’s Board of Health, told LocalSource that he has been ringing the alarm bells for years about the rodent problem in town. “I’ve been saying for years that there’s a rat problem in town,” Kobitz said in a phone call. “I’ve been saying there’s a rat problem in the building and the mayor just ignores it. They reproduce really quickly and this is going to continue to be a problem unless something is done.”
After researching the reproductive patterns of rodents, it appears Kobitz is correct. A pair of brown rats can produce as many as 2,000 descendants in a year if left to breed unchecked. For mice, the gestation period is about 19 to 21 days, with females giving birth to an average litter of 6 to 8 young. One female can have 5 to 10 litters per year, and breeding occurs throughout the year.
Dawn Thomas, of the New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Communications, told LocalSource that a response has not yet been received from the township.
Hillside Councilman Sip Whitaker told LocalSource that he has personally seen the pesky critters all over the property outside of town hall. “They’re not even scared,” said Whitaker of the rodents. “They’re like, ‘I’m walking, don’t bother me.’”
Whitaker cited a large mound of dirt near the police department’s parking lot — probably from the recent repairs and construction going on at the department — as an attraction for the rodents.
According to Whitaker, Garretson has said at council meetings that there is no rodent problem. Whitaker adamantly disagrees. “The mayor has claimed that there is no problem at council meetings,” said Whitaker. “We are looking for answers.”
Kobitz said that town hall, as well as surrounding areas, must be cleaned up. “They have to clean the property up,” Kobitz said.
Kobitz cited piles of leaves all over town, as well as other issues that must be dealt with. But, said Kobitz, the township’s Department of Public Works simply does not have the equipment or manpower to handle the workload. “They don’t have the manpower or equipment to clean up the town,” said Kobitz. “She refuses to hire employees,” he said of Garretson.
Whitaker said that he has, literally, walked side-by-side with a rat outside of town hall. “It was a nice-sized rat,” said Whitaker, recalling the incident. “The rat was like, ‘Let’s walk together,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, I guess we’re walking together.’ I wasn’t messing with him.”
Kobitz said that Garretson’s claim that township employees leaving food out on their desks is causing the rat and mouse problem is erroneous. “When you come in and there’s rat and mouse droppings on your desk, there’s no way you can blame someone who leaves food on their desk,” Kobitz said. “Don’t tell me that leaving food out brings them. If they are not there in the first place, they won’t come if food is left out.”