As It Happens

Pickling the problem? NYC launches 'alcohol and vinegar' trap to curb rat infestation

New York has been battling its rat population for centuries. Now the borough president of Brooklyn thinks he's found the solution — a large bucket that lures, traps and drowns the rodents.

Eric Adams says a new trap that drowns rats in an alcohol and vinegar solution is both efficient and humane

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams just unveiled a new trap he says will capture and kill rats in a hygienic, humane and sustainable way. (Mary Altaffer/The Associated Press)


For centuries, New York City has been looking for a solution to their rat problem. But Eric Adams says the solution is a solution. More specifically, an alcohol and vinegar solution.

Adams is the borough president of Brooklyn. He just unveiled a new bucket-sized trap called the Ekomille that lures, traps and drowns the rodents in a brine-like mixture. 

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Adams about the new trap and whether it might be a more effective and humane way to control the burgeoning rat population in the city. Here is part of their conversation.

Eric, first of all, just how bad is the rat problem in New York these days?

It is at a crisis level. We are experiencing a substantial increase in the rat population. 

And sometimes people don't understand the significant diminishment of quality of life when you're dealing with rats.

I always remember when I was a child, my neighbour had a baby. After the baby vomited a little overnight, she woke up hearing her baby scream. There was a rat gnawing at her mouth from the vomit.

You never lose sight of that. And it really impacts the quality of life of everyday people when you have a rat-infested building or a block.

Adams says the rat population is so high partly because of development in the city that pushes rats from their burrows. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

You've now given me an image I will never get out of my mind.

And that's how I feel. I still think about it from when I was seven years old.

So you could only imagine if every day you open a cabinet and rats jump out. It's traumatizing.

Now, I want to ask you about this latest device, this rat trap. How does it work?

It's a very interesting device. 

We're spending $32 million [US] on rat mitigation annually.

We use everything from the dry ice, to poison, to the black boxes where rats go inside — and even, almost $5.6 million we spent on mint-scented bags. All of these devices and items are unsuccessful.

And so I wanted to search far and wide and find out: are there new methods of dealing with an old problem?

And we were able to discover that this new device, which is environmentally friendly, humane, and it could hold up to 80 rats.

What happens is you put it out one day to get the rats used to eating the food. And once they follow that trail, they're creatures of habit.

It's a small little flip contraption that when they step on a contraption they fall down into a solution that's made out of alcohol and vinegar and they drown in that solution.

The Ekomille trap lures rats into a solution of alcohol and vinegar. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

So they're landing in this fluid. Is it like they're pickled in this stuff?

Yes. It's a sealed canister. The device is no larger than probably three inches in height and 2 ½ inches in width.

When we showed this off last week, we had up to 107 in one location of Brooklyn Borough Hall.

And we were seeing rats every day. Rats going through the trash, hiding under cars, running over the feet of people. It became really a rat-infested location. And this really resolved that problem.

Adams says using more traditional methods like rat poison is dangerous to other wildlife. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

Now, you mentioned, not that many people care about what happens to rats, but you said it was humane. How is this humane?

Well, there's several ways we deal with rats now in the city. One, you can use a poison. That takes days before the poison takes effect. The rat goes through a great deal of suffering. ... And it also leaves a dead rodent where birds and other animals can also have cross-contamination.

You can use a trap that would break the neck or the body. A very painful encounter. It could take a great deal of time before they die.

[With] this contraption, within seconds, the rat drowns. It doesn't bring the same level of torture that poison and other methods that have been used in the past.

In the pilot project for the new trap, Adams says dozens of rats were caught and killed over the course of a month. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

Just because it speaks to how large the rats are in New York, one of them was so big that it actually broke the device. Right? 

Yes. And that was a rarity. It probably was a king rat. And king rats normally lead their colonies. It was a very large rat and it actually broke the flipper part of it, which is not a major issue. You can replace the top unit.

Somebody mentioned that if you are actually able to reduce the rat population significantly, it actually might even have the opposite effect because then the rats don't have as much competition for food and then their population explodes again. Is that is that a concern?

I haven't heard that. 

But right now, I have an urgency that I must address and it would be irresponsible that I would ignore the cries of the public who are really traumatized by the number of rodents that are impacting the quality of their lives.

And if we don't do something to get it under control, we're not only going to need a borough president, we're going to need a Pied Piper.

Written by Morgan Passi and John McGill. Interview produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?