The Scrapbook was drawn like a moth to the flame by this eye-grabbing teaser last week on the front page of the Washington Post’s Health & Science section: “A metallic-green beetle has arrived . . . If you live near an ash tree, beware.” The headline was equally unnerving: “Exotic beetle has killed 100 million ash trees—and maybe some humans, too.” It gets worse. The Post cites a study linking the emerald ash borer (EAB), an invasive species, to 21,000 deaths.
So a swarm of metallic-green beetles is flying around and killing tens of thousands of people. How? By eating them alive or spraying some sort of lethal venom? Are we talking about the bugs from Starship Troopers—the ones that rip you to shreds or stab you in the brain? Well, not exactly.
“A study in February’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that deaths from cardiovascular and lower respiratory illnesses rose as ash trees vanished,” the Post explains. “The study found that the EAB’s effects can be linked to more than 21,000 deaths—an additional 24 deaths per 100,000 people every year, a 10 percent increase in mortality for those diseases.”
There’s that wonderfully ambiguous word: linked. And as the Post acknowledges, “Although the authors did not detail any direct cause-and-effect relationships, they did cite previous studies demonstrating the health benefits of trees: They improve air quality, moderate temperature, and provide opportunities for physical activity; trees are psychologically soothing and act as buffers for stress; a walk through the woods reduces heart rates and lowers cortisol levels; children living on tree-lined streets are less likely to have asthma.”
Not psychologically soothing: the thought of little green bugs devouring 21,000 people. Thankfully, this is not happening. At least not this week.