Never underestimate the ability of the corporate media to come up with a ridiculous reason for why common sense environmentalism should be ignored. The latest example: plastic bag bans make people sick.
“Rhode Island’s leaders have a new Public Enemy No. 1: plastic bags,” proclaims WPRI blogger Ted Nesi. “But is this bit of feel-good policymaking actually bad for public health?”
In reverse order: No, plastic bag bans don’t make people sick – anymore than anything else used for food storage and not cleaned properly. No, this isn’t feel good policy – it will actually go a long way to cleaning up Narragansett Bay and help the aquatic ecosystem thrive. And, no, RI doesn’t have a new public enemy – the enemy is still the corporate forces that prevent the public from having a rational debate about anything that doesn’t line their wallets.
Nesi uses a post by National Journal editor, American Enterprise Institute fellow and arch conservative Ramesh Ponnuru to show that reusable bags might be dangerous. The scare tactic says that people are getting sick because they are using unwashed reusable bags to cargo raw meat and fish. Nevermind that Ponnuru is a climate change denier who authors articles with headlines such as “Why Republicans Should Ignore Obama” and “Why a Debt-Ceiling Fight Is Good for the Country,” it’s just a ridiculous argument to make. It’s the same logic that says we shouldn’t ban guns because some people get struck by lightening.
In fact, the Washington Post’s WonkBlog did a piece on the study’s illogical conclusions. It says the study is “certainly suggestive. But according to Tomás Aragón, an epidemiologist at UC Berkeley and health officer for the city of San Francisco, these graphs don’t prove nearly as much as you might think.”
In a memo (pdf) released earlier this week, Aragón explained that this is an example of the “ecological fallacy.” In order to establish a link between the bag ban and illnesses, the authors would have to show that the same people who are using reusable bags are also the ones getting sick. This study doesn’t do that. Aragón also points out that emergency-room data can be very incomplete—under an alternate measure, there’s been no rise in E. coli at all.
Aragón also offers an alternative hypothesis for the recent rise in deaths related to intestinal infections. A large portion of the cases in San Francisco involve C. difficile enterocolitis, a disease that’s often coded as food-borne illness in hospitals. And this disease has become more common in lots of places since 2005, all around the United States, Canada, and Europe (for yet-unexplained reasons). “The increase in San Francisco,” he notes, “probably reflects this international increase.”