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'Roach Queen' reigns over city's creepiest denizens

By: Doug Snover

April 28, 2007

Talking shop with Barb Duffy in her cubicle in Chandler’s sparkling Municipal Utilities Administration building, a person can’t help scanning her desk and the floor below for skittering creatures – the kind that crunch beneath your shoes.

Duffy is seemingly oblivious to your wary stare as she talks happily about her work and shows off the city brochures and favorite websites on her favorite subject.

Meanwhile, your eye keeps scanning for the slightest movement.

Duffy is, after all, Chandler’s self-proclaimed “Roach Queen.”

She doesn’t have a business card, but she does have a personal parking space reserved for the Roach Queen.

And she keeps a larger-than-life plastic cockroach in her in-box to greet visitors just inside the main doors of the Municipal Utilities building.

Duffy, 50, loves her job so much she gave up her dream of becoming a nurse and is pursuing a college degree in sewer stuff.

“I’m about halfway through my college course. I took time off to send my daughter to college (she’s a teacher now in the East Valley). Originally, it was in the medical field, but this – the sewer – was much more interesting, so now I’m pursuing a degree in wastewater management,” she said.

“Instead of stitching people up, I’m soothing their fears about bugs.”

A Chandler employee for 11 years, Duffy (she was Barb Hawbaker until later last year when she remarried) spends her days talking frightened Chandler residents down off the kitchen table. She handles lots of citizen calls but her favorites are about roaches.

Are people really scared of the tiny pests?

“To death,” Duffy intones with dramatic seriousness. “To death!”

Citizens call Duffy with 9-1-1-like panic in their voices, seeking help for backed-up toilets, hot-water shortages, and – of course – cockroaches.

She provides understanding, helpful suggestions, and some sewer trivia that she gleans from Internet sites such as  – all liberally sprinkled with humor.

“A lot of times if you can laugh about it, it’s not so frightening,” she reasons.

An example of her calming patter:

“Cockroaches don’t bite. They don’t attack you. They don’t flap their wings and fly – they’re gliders, like hang-gliders.”


“Did you know there is a goddess of sewers? No, not me. Cloacina! I just found out about her the other day.”

Cloacina, according to Jon C. Schladweiler, historian for the Arizona Water and Pollution Control Association, was “the goddess of Rome’s sewers (and workers), a facet of Rome’s public works infrastructure that was considered vital to their desired way of life -- good health through sanitation.”

Sacrum Cloacina, a shrine to the sewer goddess, was built in Roman Forum, in front of the Basilica Aemilia; directly above the Cloaca Maxima sewer, and is believed to have included an entrance to the sewer (a.k.a. “manhole”) as part of the shrine, according to an essay by Schladweiler posted on

Wrangler News, ever aware of journalism’s own ties to the world of cockroaches, reciprocated by introducing Duffy to archy, the literary cockroach who appeared in 1916 in newspaperman Don Marquis’ column in The Evening Sun in New York City.

archy, who couldn’t make capital letters, typed out free-verse poetry on Marquis’ typewriter by jumping on the keys late at night when no one was watching. (

But back to Duffy. “I’m a jack of all trades. I take roach complaints, odor complaints, backup complaints. I developed the manhole painting program.”

Manhole painting?

Turns out that Chandler, like most modern municipalities, hires a contractor to spray a special insecticide paint in its manholes to control cockroaches. The city spends “oh, about $40,000” each year having the special paint sprayed inside its roughly 16,000 manholes, according to Duffy. Each manhole is sprayed about eight feet deep and about half of the 16,000 manholes are coated each year.

Want more sewer trivia? Chandler processes about 24 million gallons of sewage each day, collecting it from more than 69,500 residential and commercial sewer connections and piping it through the underground sewer lines to three treatment plants south of the city.

Gold rings accidentally dropped into a toilet or kitchen sink likely will disintegrate before they reach the treatment facility, but – oddly – corn kernels will not. There is too much hydrogen sulfide for rats, snakes or scorpions to survive in the sewers, according to Duffy, but cockroaches – particularly the American sewer cockroach – can and do survive down there.

Finally, a word about Skittles, the live cockroach that Duffy rescued when a resident brought it to the office inside a plastic bag last Fall.

Duffy kept Skittles in a tiny cage and fed it (him?) French fries and chicken nuggets.

Skittles didn’t survive, however. Someone apparently thought the pet cockroach needed a playmate, so he or she put a lizard in Skittles cage one day when Duffy wasn’t around.

Nowadays Duffy is on the lookout for an albino cockroach to replace poor old Skittles, who got eaten.

And if you worried we weren’t going to give out Duffy’s telephone number, here it is: (480) 782-3600.

“This is the roach hotline,” Duffy said when she answered.



Photo by David Stone


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