McPherson Square rat infestation has health officials concerned

Protesters have camped out in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza since late last year. (Photo: WJLA)

As if the cold weather and recently snowy conditions aren't enough for Occupy D.C. protesters to deal with; now they have rats.

D.C. health officials say that they're worried about the number of rats gathering in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza as Occupy protests stretch into 2012.

"[The protesters] might be a contributing factor because they leave food open," said a person.

Others say that the rats were there before the protesters showed up.

"You see a little bit, but it's not bad," said protester Mark Scott. "You go anywhere in the city and you'll see rats everywhere."

T.K. Woldamerian and his wife Meriam have run a food cart across the street from McPherson Square for nearly a decade.

"There could be rats anywhere," Woldamerian said. "There could be rats in the White House."

Health experts blame unsanitary conditions at both camps for the infestation, but say they won't recommend evicting the protesters unless there's an outbreak of illness.

"I'm very supportive of their rights and ability to demonstrate but I have concerns about their personal safety," District Department of Health Director Mohammad Akhter told the Washington Post.

The National Park Service and U.S. Park Police have the ultimate say on whether protesters can stay in their encampments.

Most business owners in the area said the rat problem was there before the Occupiers came, and will be there when they leave.

Last week, protesters filed a court motion to block authorities from evicting them or confiscating their property.