Rampant rats are threatening to overrun parts of Birmingham as the city’s bin strike enters its sixth foul-smelling week.
Monster vermin are reported by busy pest controllers to be copulating at record levels, with slimy leftovers leading to an explosion in their nourishment - and virility.
Meanwhile, residents have said rodents have taken over parks and playgrounds, leading some to suggest the city is “under siege” with parents afraid to let their children play outside.
Industrial action by rubbish collectors has severely disrupted collections in several city postcodes, with strikers accused by council leaders of “holding the city to ransom”.
Trade union Unite said this weekend it is considering extending the industrial action until Christmas - as the month-long row over pay and conditions continues.
And efforts by Labour-run Birmingham City Council to counter the strike by sweeping through streets one at a time have so far failed to stem the tide of pests inhabiting overflowing bins.
While some homes have been cleared of rotting waste dumped at the beginning of the strike, not all the rubbish has been collected.
And residents should now brace themselves for the prospect of a surge in the numbers of rats, according to local pest controllers.
Ian Sharpe, of Environmental Pest Control in Birmingham told HuffPost UK: “The rats are going to start breeding quickly, and it takes a while to come through.
“But now we’re five weeks in, we will start to see the numbers growing.
“They have a three-week gestation period so the rats conceived at the beginning of the strike will be appearing and then it’s five weeks until those rats are sexually mature.
“There’s so much food around - there’s almost no competition, so they have a much lower mortality rate.
“It’s early days yet - we’ll have to wait until the colder months to see what happens.
“The rats will start looking for places that are warm and dry. With the increased numbers, I’m expecting more calls.
When the strike ends, the rats won’t disappear overnight... their food source will be removed and they will start to take risks Ian Sharpe, Birmingham pest controller
“There’s likely to be a large spike in numbers as the strike continues. When the strike ends, the rats won’t disappear overnight.
“Their food source will be removed and they will start to take risks - getting into places they wouldn’t normally try.”
Sharpe said his firm was advising people to double-bag their rubbish and keep smells to a minimum by carefully sealing and storing waste above ground.
Over the past few weeks, residents have spoken of their dismay at the situation.
Mum-of-two Teresa Vincent, 42, said: “The street outside my house has been absolutely filthy.
“My kids are only seven and nine, and this has coincided directly with the start of the summer holidays.
“I’ve been scared to let them out of the house, because the streets are full of maggots and god knows what else.
“To make it worse, in many areas there’s a horrific stench.”
And there are fears that rodents might make a permanent home - even if overflowing trash is removed.
Retired engineer Douglas Turner, 78, said: “I’ve never known anything like it before.
“It’s an absolute disgrace, some of these bags of rubbish stand more than 8ft high.
“It’s being cleared now but it’s taken so long the area has become plagued by rats and once they get used to a place they don’t go away. It’s unacceptable to live like this.”
Public Health England told HuffPost the risk to the public remained “very low”.
Cllr Lisa Trickett, Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment, said in an emailed statement: “During the first three-week cycle of our contingency plan, we managed to successfully visit more than 90 per cent of the city’s streets at least once.
“We were unfortunately not able to get to all as a result of the further escalation in strike action by Unite during this period, which now means our regular crews are officially striking for three hours every day - with the actual impact, due to constant travelling to and from the depots for the strike, being much more severe.
“We have a plan for the next three-week collection cycle, which is being publicised in advance, through all of the council’s regular communications channels.
“However, the strike action will make this a significant challenge for the council and its partners to deliver on.
“This is why we urge Unite to take up the offer of going to ACAS to get the points they dispute with the council resolved as quickly as possible, so citizens can get back to receiving the level of service they understandably expect.”
Public Health England West Midlands advice regarding household waste
The public health risk associated with household waste is very low and can be easily managed by taking the following precautions:
- Good hygiene is important to reduce risk of becoming ill from bugs, in particular regular hand washing with soap and water.
- Keep food preparation areas clean using a disinfectant, don’t leave food on surfaces at home unwrapped, including pet food and use bin lids as accumulated waste can attract flies
- Use two bin bags, especially when preparing waste for taking outside as this reduces the risk of vermin breaking into bin bags.
- In particular, ensure waste products such as nappies, sanitary towels and condoms are ‘double bagged’ for example put in a smaller bag first before placing in the household rubbish bin.
- Use gloves if you pick up rubbish that has spilled into your driveway or street.
- Take extra precaution with children who may be playing in areas near where rubbish has accumulated and especially if you notice exposed waste.
- Where possible, keep wheelie bins / outside bins out of direct sunlight to reduce smells.
- if you or your child cuts themselves on waste in the street, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and apply a sterile adhesive dressing, such as a plaster. For more information about how to deal with cuts visit NHS Choices
If there is a risk the wound could become infected or you think it is already infected call NHS 111 or visit your local walk-in centre, minor injuries unit or GP surgery or download the free ‘Ask NHS’ app for advice if you begin to feel unwell.