WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- DC's health director says rats are infesting the Occupy encampment in McPherson Square.
Mohammad Akhter personally inspected the protest zone and said there are signs rodents are thriving there on the food and garbage from the outdoor kitchen.
With winter setting in, he's worried as well about fires and hypothermia.
Occupiers were cleaning camp, after at least one informal complaint to the Health Department about the mess.
The city struggles to control rodents in the best of times.
And the city's health director -- touring the encampment -- says he's worried the scores of Occupiers living, cooking and eating outside may be feeding the population of rats.
Occupiers deny it. "I was in this park before Occupy began," says Mark "Bear" Parker. We had rats all the time. A lot of people leave food lying around. You're going to have rats attracted to it."
The unofficial Occupy chef has voluntarily shut down the kitchen for now. He's been trying to lay down some rules for a movement that celebrates it's lack of leaders.
"On a regular basis," says Basant Khalsa. "People will sneak into the kitchen after I done washed up all the dishes and went to bed. And they will make messes in there."
He refuses to serve another meal until he gets things cleaned up. "If I finish doing what I need to do, I'll start cooking tomorrow."
But long time Occupiers say that if you think a controversy over sanitation will close the camp down -- you can think again. "We're here. We're here to stay," says Parker.
The Health Director denies that this is any kind of pretense to kick the protestors out of the square. He says they have a constitutional right to be here. He just wants to keep them safe.
Written and Reported by Bruce Leshan
9News Now & wusa9.com