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Thursday, 21 May, 1998, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
PVC mattresses 'not responsible' for cot deaths
Cot death is more likely to be caused by smoking than by chemicals in PVC mattresses
Scientists say PVC mattresses are not to blame for cot death
A new government report has dismissed any connection between cot death and a chemical found in babies' mattresses.

Research by the Government-appointed Expert Group On Cot Death Theories concludes there is no evidence that fire-proofing chemicals found in PVC mattresses produce toxic fumes which can be fatal in babies.

The theory was first highlighted in 1994 by ITV's The Cook Report. It repeated research carried out by scientist Barry Richardson and New Zealand-based chemist Jim Sprott.

In response, the Chief Medical Officer Sir Kenneth Calman set up the group of 12 experts, led by Lady Limerick.

Lethal gas

Barry Richardson, the man who developed the mattress theory of cot death
Scientist Barry Richardson claims a toxic mixture is responsible for cot deaths
The controversial research claimed that a toxic gas called stibine is formed when babies' urine is mixed with antimony, a metallic element used in the fire retardants for some plastic cot mattress covers.

The programme claimed the gas was responsible for 400 cot deaths in the UK a year.

Parents were advised to use mattresses free of antimony or phosphorus or, failing that, to wrap the mattress in clear polythene.

The programme sparked off a heated debate. Sir Kenneth described the findings as "limited, adequate and flawed."

'Parents can be reassured'

The government research over the past 3½ years is estimated to have cost the Department of Health around 500,000.

Group chairman Lady Limerick said: "Our main conclusion is that there is no evidence to suggest that antimony or phosphorus containing compounds used as fire retardants in PVC and other cot mattress materials are a cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

"Parents can be reassured that the toxic gas hypothesis and the claims put forward on the Cook Report do not stand up to scientific scrutiny. We have been thorough in our research and have found no link between cot deaths and chemicals added to PVC cot mattresses."

Worthwhile research

Sir Kenneth dismissed claims that the research was a waste of money and said he believed the study was worthwhile.

He said: "The issue is that here was an important potential problem and we believed we must do everything we could to make sure there was nothing we could do to prevent it.

"I think any work which could save the lives of children in a group of diseases we do not know much about must be worth doing."

The conclusions of the expert group included six key messages to parents.

The advice is contained in the leaflet Reduce the Risks of Cot Deaths and includes:

  • Place baby on his/her back to sleep;
  • Cut smoking in pregnancy;
  • Do not let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby;
  • Do not let the baby get too hot;
  • Keep the baby's head uncovered;
  • If baby is unwell seek advice promptly.
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BBC News
Lady Limerick: "We want to reassure parents."
BBC News
Barry Richardson still believes he is right
See also:

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