The Environmental Protection Agency has ten regional offices around the country, including one in Atlanta, which closed — like most government buildings — during the pandemic. The agency had planned to return to the sprawling concrete-and-glass Sam Nunn Federal Center this spring, but in March an agency manager emailed the office’s hundreds of workers announcing a delay. . In their absence, rats had settled.
The manager’s email attempted to allay concerns. He announced the Fresh Return Initiative. There would be a “post-removal/trapping monitoring” effort, she wrote, as well as services by an “industrial hygienist.” All employees entering the building while rat dominance remained would be provided with masks and gloves. A rodent-free reopening was scheduled to take place by April 22, Earth Day.
On April 25, the agency’s deputy regional director sent a lengthy follow-up email. He explained that there had been a “pause” in the Fresh Return Initiative. The rodent eradication strategy now involved a five-step plan – although, as he acknowledged, no pest control contractors had yet been ‘hired’ to execute the plan and so there was no of “specific calendars” or “activity milestones” to share. .
The first phase outlined a sensible path: Employees should stay away from the rat-infested office, “unless the goal is mission critical,” the deputy director wrote. A contractor would end up “inspecting every work area for rodents or evidence of them,” he continued, including “obvious rodent droppings,” rat nests and food scraps. . Office plants were found to be of concern. (Rats, of course, love office plants as much as EPA employees.) Shopping bags and other potential “nesting items” would be removed. Papers searched by rodents would be “disposed of in consultation with the duty manager”. Entrapment, by unspecified means, would then occur. This would continue until there were “no results” for five consecutive days. The office carpets would then be shampooed and the air would be filtered.
Phase two, the assistant manager continued, amounted to “decluttering,” and phases three through five involved more cleaning, inspection, and the long-awaited — or dreaded — return of employees.
This return has not yet taken place. One employee, still working from home, called the situation “just weird”. During the pandemic, rats have been on a rampage in cities like New York, where they feast on leftover meals al fresco — but the EPA, as its website states, is the agency tasked with “providing the public with tools to control rodents and the risks they can pose. The employee said, “Like, what is this? It’s so governmental.
The person had stopped by the office only once in the past few months: “I was told not to come in, but the security guy said, ‘I won’t know if you did.’ “No rats were visible during the visit, which took place during the day. Nor are the promised gloves and masks. But the employee had heard that “the initial cleaning crew saw real rats running around”. Statistics on rat breeding have been consulted: “Two rats can make fifteen thousand other rats in a year. You can Google that. These are just known facts about rat fertility.
“I hate working from home,” the employee said. “But I don’t want to work in a place where I’m the only person and there are rats everywhere. A theory had been advanced as to why, beyond bureaucratic slowness and murine ingenuity, it took so long to get rid of the rats: “Some people at the EPA don’t want to see the rats killed .
An amateur investigator recently attempted to enter the Sam Nunn Building, but security officers turned him away because he was not working for the federal government. The investigator sat down on an outside bench. A man leaving the building, who worked on the seventh floor below the EPA offices, said co-workers reported “heard something in the walls.” A woman smoking on a nearby bench said she saw something, and it was rats.
The visitor noticed a black plastic box near an outside wall and asked security guards about it.
“It’s a rat trap,” said one.
“We have rats,” added another with a laugh. “They’re all in there.”
The first guard pointed to a crack in the sidewalk around the building. “They go right under it,” he said. “They already have their holes in there. And they run here freely. He waved his arms.
“A few of them have their own offices,” said a third guard. They were still laughing.
The rats continued to thwart the Fresh Return Initiative. In mid-September, the General Services Administration, which manages federal properties, posted an online solicitation for “extermination and pest control services” for the Sam Nunn building. The required work, according to the agency, would continue until December 2023. ♦