The Roosevelt Island Parents Network was blowing up May 11 with reports of dead squirrels on Southtown lawns. Later, parents sent in photos of the warning signs, alerting Islanders to pesticide spray, that caused all of those deaths.

While it is understandable that many people are annoyed by the unsightly mess that squirrels and pigeons create, as well as the appearance of rats, these animals can also be dangerous as they often carry serious diseases1.

Animal deaths by poison are not a new phenomenon on Roosevelt Island. In July 2012 both the New York City Fire Department and New York City Police Department were called to Roosevelt Island to investigate dead squirrels on the lawn behind 465 Main Street. Their investigation showed there was white granular powder near the squirrels, suggestive of a pesticide which was later determined being used to kill rats.

Further, earlier that year several dogs died from ingesting rat poison which had been placed in one or more places.

Following those incidents, several of us approached the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) in our attempts to find out who was responsible for placing these chemicals and whether appropriate procedures were being followed to protect people and their pets. At that time, RIOC Board Member Margie Smith assured us that RIOC had no knowledge of or participation in this.

While we were never informed about who actually placed the poison and do not know whether RIOC ever conducted an investigation, New York City has specific laws regarding the use of pesticides. Local Law 36: New York City’s Pesticide Neighbor Notification Law is designed to minimize exposure to hazardous pesticides and with advanced warning, residents can take steps to avoid unintentional exposures. Further, there is a controlled effort known as IPM (Integrated Pest Management) which “targets the underlying causes of pest problems, provides more long lasting pest control, improves building conditions and is safer for residents and pets. IPM also is an effective method for reducing pest allergens in homes.” Further information about this program can be found here:

This issue has been called to RIOC’s attention since the incidents in 2012, but have been largely ignored. For example, in August, 2012, I wrote the following letter to RIOC and its Board of Directors:

“I am quite concerned about two recent incidents of animal poisonings: a dog a few months ago, and on July 22nd, when several dead squirrels were found on the lawn behind 465 Main Street. We know that the Island has been plagued by pigeon droppings (for those of us who park in Motorgate, the proliferation of pigeon droppings is outrageous) and, more recently, by the appearance of rats. However, RIOC has not done anything, to my knowledge, of either preventing the proliferation of pests and unwanted animals, nor is there a public policy that meets reasonable standards of health and safety.

Thus far these incidents have affected animals. My fear is that the next incident will affect and cause harm to a child who might be playing on a lawn. As far as my limited understanding goes of how these chemicals work, an animal may ingest it in one location and carry it to another, thus contaminating a public space. That means that a toddler playing on a contaminated lawn can touch the grass and then his/her mouth, or that a child picking up a ball could then rub his/her eyes or mouth and unwittingly ingest some chemicals or even bacteria transported by these animals.

Therefore I would like to ask you if you would begin to get a program of prevention and education to do the following:

1. Install clear and visible “Do not feed the animals” signage in all public areas so that residents, workers, and visitors are discouraged (possibly even fined; and yes, they can be fined if there is a threat to public safety) for feeding pigeons and squirrels;
2. Direct Public Safety to enforce and/or reprimand people feeding the animals;
3. Create and implement publicity to explain the health risks (especially to seniors, the disabled and children) of proliferating these potential disease carriers;
4. Ensure that all food service establishments properly secure and promptly remove trash so as not to encourage unwanted animal pests;
5. Implement an anti-littering effort to discourage people from dropping food and throwing wrappers on the ground;
6. Prohibit any spraying or placing of poisons by building maintenance and/or other unlicensed personnel;
7. Insist that whenever toxic substances are used, advance warnings are issued as required by law, and that clearly visible signage is placed;
8. Insist that whenever spraying occurs, such as for the West Nile Virus, that misleading warnings such as “not harmful to children and pets” are instead replaced with proper warnings to people with potential respiratory issues to remain indoors with doors and windows closed;
9. Clarity by RIOC about who can and who cannot use pesticides and provide a list of licensed exterminators who will comply with laws pertaining to their use.

Despite finally placing signs, the signs RIOC employs here are inadequate. First, they do not warn people that there are penalties for feeding the animals. Second, they must enforce this law through the use of summonses to demonstrate to the public that feeding squirrels is illegal and that they take this seriously.

RIOC must take immediate action beginning with a concerted effort to implement an ongoing education program, monitor building management agents and food establishments, creating and installing proper informative signage, and enforcing procedures, including fines and legal action, for those who do not comply, and remove the pigeon nests from the rafters in Motorgate.



  1. "Pigeon-Related Diseases", New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene,

Tags: Island Observer

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