Media release re SIDS New Zealand

  1. T James Sprott OBE 10 Combes Road
    MSc PhD FNZIC Remuera
    Consulting Chemist Auckland 1005
    Forensic Scientist New Zealand

    Phone & fax: 64-9-5231150
    9 April 2003



    Dr Jim Sprott is congratulating cot death prevention organisation SIDS New Zealand for adopting policies which actively promote mattress-wrapping for cot death prevention.

    The first cot death prevention organisation to break away from promoting solely Ministry of Health advice, SIDS New Zealand is now - like Dr Sprott - informing parents about mattress-wrapping for cot death prevention.

    Dr Sprott singled out for special praise the bassinet loan scheme under which SIDS New Zealand provides bassinets and mattresses to needy parents. Mattresses lent out by SIDS New Zealand are enclosed in mattress covers which meet Dr Sprott's specifications for cot death prevention, and in addition parents are provided with Dr Sprott's full bedding instructions.

    Research published by the Scottish Cot Death Trust in the British Medical Journal in November last year proved that the risk of cot death rises markedly as mattresses are re-used from one baby to the next(1) - a situation which frequently occurs in poorer families.

    "SIDS New Zealand are to be applauded for their progressive stance in promoting mattress-wrapping for cot death prevention," said Dr Sprott. "Bearing in mind that cot death is more prevalent among low income families (especially Maori families), SIDS New Zealand's policy of issuing wrapped mattresses to needy families is a great step forward for cot death prevention in New Zealand.

    "Along with the eight-year Cot Life 2000 mattress-wrapping campaign(2), SIDS New Zealand is now in the forefront of cot death prevention in this country."

    Dr Sprott is encouraging members of the public who wish to make a financial contribution to cot death prevention to extend their support to SIDS New Zealand.(3)


    1. Tappin et al, Used infant mattresses and sudden infant death syndrome in Scotland: case-control study, British Medical Journal 2002;325:1007.

    2. Since late 1994 Dr Sprott has been publicising mattress-wrapping for cot death prevention nationwide in New Zealand, and during that time a very large number of babies have slept on wrapped mattresses. There has been no reported cot death among those babies, and during that period the New Zealand cot death rate has fallen by 48% and the Pakeha rate by an estimated 75%.

    3. To contact SIDS New Zealand phone 0800-164455. SIDS New Zealand is independent of the New Zealand Cot Death Association (which ran the now discontinued Red Nose Day appeal in New Zealand).


    Media Release - Cot death/SIDS - Warning re bedding sheepskins
    T James Sprott OBE 10 Combes Road
    MSc PhD FNZIC Remuera
    Consulting Chemist Auckland 1005
    Forensic Scientist New Zealand

    Phone & fax: 64-9-5231150

    3 April 2003


    Scientist warns parents about new research into bedding sheepskins:
    Generation of highly toxic gas from sheepskins proved

    New Zealand scientist Dr Jim Sprott OBE is warning parents and babycare advisers in Britain about information contained in new research which proves the generation of highly toxic gas from bedding sheepskins.

    The research(1) co-authored by Dr Bill Cullen and others at the Chemistry Department of the University of British Columbia, is scheduled for publication in a research journal later this year.

    Dr Cullen's team has proved indisputably that the highly toxic gas trimethylarsine
    (derived from arsenic) can be generated from sheepskin used as baby bedding.
    However, using data regarding the effects of trimethylarsine when inhaled by mice,
    the researchers have stated that the amount of this gas generated from sheepskins
    would be unlikely to result in the death of babies.

    "The researchers' comparison between babies and mice is totally invalid," said Dr
    Sprott. "It is well known that babies can ingest trimethylarsine not only by
    breathing the gas in, but also by absorbing it through their skin. Gas generated
    from a baby's bedding can readily be trapped around the baby's skin by clothing and
    bedding - and a baby's skin is immature and permeable to gases, including
    trimethylarsine. In addition, bedding often contains residues of laundry
    detergents, and traces of these chemicals on a baby's skin greatly increases the
    rate at which gas passes through the skin. So the researchers' reference to mice is
    totally invalid."

    Trimethylarsine is a highly toxic "nerve" gas. It is an anticholinesterase agent,
    and a minute dose can result in cessation of heart and lung functions, thereby
    causing death.

    "Dr Cullen's proof that bedding sheepskin can generate one of the most toxic gases
    known is crucial information for parents," said Dr Sprott. "It is very important
    for parents to be warned against using sheepskins as infant bedding."

    Dr Sprott is issuing parallel media releases to Governments, researchers, babycare
    organisations and the media in the USA, Canada, Britain, Europe, Australia and New

    "I am not prepared to stand by and permit babies - particularly in the 'sheepskin
    rich' countries of Britain, Australia and New Zealand - to be put at risk because a
    group of researchers in Canada publish a conclusion about sheepskins which is based
    on an invalid comparison between babies and mice," said Dr Sprott.

    Since late 1994 Dr Sprott has publicised a mattress-wrapping protocol for cot death prevention throughout New Zealand and in other countries, including Britain. This protocol, which covers both mattresses and bedding, specifically warns parents against using sheepskins as baby bedding (based on Dr Sprott's research into concentrations of phosphorus, arsenic and antimony in sheepskins).

    There has been no reported cot death among the very large number of babies who have slept on mattresses wrapped in accordance with Dr Sprott's mattress-wrapping protocol. In New Zealand, since the mattress-wrapping campaign commenced the cot death rate has fallen by 48%(2), and the use of sheepskins as baby bedding has declined significantly in that country.(3)


    1. "Arsenic methylation by microorganisms isolated from sheepskin bedding materials"
    Authors: Corinne Lehr, Elena Polishchuk, Marie-Chantal Delisle, Catherine Franz,
    Bill Cullen

    2. >From 2.1 deaths per 1000 live births in 1994 to 1.1/1000 in 2000 (provisional)

    3. Ford et al, "Changes to Infant Sleep Practices in Canterbury", New Zealand
    Medical Journal, January 2000

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