Now that I use my own shopping bags for groceries - carry them into the store, hand them over to the cashier for filling and carry them out again - I'm grateful for the periodic news stories headlined, "Your Filthy Shopping Bags Are Killing You."

Now that I use my own shopping bags for groceries - carry them into the store, hand them over to the cashier for filling and carry them out again - I'm grateful for the periodic news stories headlined, "Your Filthy Shopping Bags Are Killing You."

These faithful reminders that germs are living and reproducing in my cloth bags do in fact fairly often nudge me into gathering up the bags and throwing them into the clothes washer for a good scouring.

Still, I wonder. Wasn't the whole push to buy groceries in reusable bags supposed to save the world from death by litter - litter in the form of non-biodegradable plastic bags clogging our landfills and dumps and waterways and oceans? Weren't we putting both ourselves and certain marine wildlife at risk every time we dropped a single garlic bulb into a plastic bag and secured the bag with a twist-tie?

It's true that I broke down and began using my own bags not so much to save the planet as to get on the bus, so to speak, before I was the very last one left standing on the curb.

Also, my daughter gave me half a dozen reusable shopping bags that I gradually came to realize are not merely bags. They're top-of-the-line bags - extra large with square bottoms, and made from some lightweight, high-tech material strong enough to hold $89 worth of groceries, including a sack of potatoes, a jug of cider, a honeydew melon and a toaster oven. Some days it's all I can do to get away from cashiers who want to praise my reusable bags up one side and down the other. I'd do better at escaping if I wasn't trying to lift a bag packed with a sack of potatoes, a jug of cider, a honeydew melon and a toaster oven, but never mind. My point is, I thought by using my own shopping bags I was doing my part to save the earth, not to mention the whales, the dolphins and the African mollusks that might mistake plastic grocery bags for part of the food chain.

But no. It turns out that I'm merely hastening death - mine, yours, theirs - by providing a teeming breeding ground for vermin. Next, I suppose, will come the news story: "The Leftover Germs In Your Washing Machine Are Killing You."

In fact, an argument probably could be made for cleaning the machine's filter more often, or running bleach through the works now and again. Details on how to keep one's Maytag from becoming an instrument of death no doubt first surfaced several months after neighborhood health officials finally persuaded the general public to avoid typhoid by washing their clothes more often than once a season.

And automobile lap belts, air bags and other safety features? They were installed in cars to keep travelers snug in their seats even when the car itself met with an immovable object. The airbags were pillows on which rattled drivers could briefly lay their heads in the event of an emergency. It all sounded so attractive and cozy. No one would perish in cars equipped with these safety features! Every trip on the road would be no more hazardous than a spin around the bumper car track.

Then seatbelts and air bags became standard, and we began to hear about travelers bisected by their belts, smooshed by airbags, trapped upside down after accidents from which they might have been quote thrown clear unquote were it not for those pesky restraints.

We all know that anything can become the sort of story that includes the words "details at 11:" Poisonous house plants, invisible gases, family pets that revert without warning to the instincts of the jungle, tainted drinking water. That list is endless. What I object to is the promotion of a healthy habit followed by warnings that the habit is likely to have disastrous consequences.

Running is another example. People need to move more, we were told. People who are sedentary gain weight and die before their time. Run! Run! we were told. It was as if the experts could see the B movie monsters on the horizon, coming this way.

So we ran, only to be told that running is terrible for the hips, worse for the knees and can cause heart attacks and sudden death.

Not that I believe this - I ran eight miles just this morning - but I bought into the first argument, began running as if King Kong were hot on my heels, and have had to hear all the death-by-running warnings ever since.

What's my solution? Details at 11.