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Roaches Rampant On Campus

By Katherine M. Gray, Crimson Staff Writer

Some House residents may find themselves with more roommates than they expected this fall, as cockroaches take up residence in rooms that went unused over the summer.

Many students in the Houses have come face-to-face with cockroaches hiding in drains or in dark corners of their bedrooms. Others have reported seeing cockroaches in the daytime. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, “daytime sightings may indicate potentially heavy infestations.”

Two summers ago in her Lowell House room, Lauren E. Jensen ’08 was talking to her mom on the phone when she had a funny feeling on the back of her leg.

“There was this giant cockroach,” she recalled yesterday. “I told my mom that I had to call her back.”

“Very few things really disgust me,” she said, adding that she saw another cockroach while she was taking a shower a few days later. It was resting on her shampoo bottle. “They cling to things. And they’re huge.”

Nathan P. Whitfield ’09 saw nearly ten cockroaches as a dorm crew captain in Lowell house during last year’s spring clean-up. Whitfield and his dorm crew saw four live cockroaches—and a dead one—scattered on the walls, in the shower, and on the toilet of one of the bathrooms.

He said that the room was not particularly dirty and that he saw the cockroaches in the middle of the day. When he flushed one cockroach down the toilet four or five roaches crawled—fast—out of the shower drain and onto the curtain.

Whitfield also mentioned that he and another worker chased three cockroaches “jumping down the stairs” in K entryway a few days after.

“There’s no way you’re going to tell me that any deans’, professors’, or house masters’ houses or living facilities are going to be infested with cockroaches,” Whitfield said. “And yet we as students are being asked to live in what I or anyone else would consider unsanitary conditions.”

According to the CDC web site, the cockroach can be “an allergen source and an asthma trigger,” and can carry Salmonella and other viruses.

Whitfield said that he plans to write a letter to the University calling for action. “You’re telling me that one summer you can’t close down Lowell or Eliot house and spray the entire building?” he said.

But Zachary M. Gringo ’99, who is Associate Director of Residential Operations for FAS, wrote in an e-mail that the Houses are not fumigated to avoid exposing any residents to pesticides. “Even when students are not in the building, we often have tutors and other House affiliates in residence, and we don’t want them to be exposed to airborne pesticides associated with spraying.”

According to Gringo, fumigation would not be effective because it would not eliminate the source of the cockroaches, which come from city sewers.

Gringo wrote that FAS Physical Resources sets baits, primes the drains of the Houses’ plumbing, and does “on-site work” that includes sealing cracks in pipes, capping off unused plumping fixtures, and advising residents to stow their food.

“When the students come back and use the plumbing again, the roaches are mostly flushed back down the drain, but some of them manage to crawl out of the pipes and into the bathrooms,” he wrote, adding that FAS is now testing environmentally friendly treatments that can be poured down drains.

—Staff writer Katherine M. Gray can be reached at kmgray@fas.harvard.edu.

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