Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Used infant mattresses and sudden infant death syndrome in Scotland: case-control study

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 02 November 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1007

Rapid Response:

Cause and Prevention of Cot Death (SIDS)

Cause and Prevention of Cot Death (SIDS)

Cause. Ubiquitous, ordinarily harmless household fungi and certain
microorganisms cohabit in bed with baby. Consuming legally required fire
retardant and other chemicals in mattress and bedding and whipped into
greater activity by remnants of detergents and similar chemicals, these
organisms generate neurotoxic gases about 1,000 times more poisonous than
carbon monoxide.

T. James Sprott, OBE MSc PhD, proposed a toxic gas explanation for SIDS in
1986. (SUNDAY STAR-TIMES, 1986: April 6). In 1988/89 Barry A. Richardson
BSc FIWSc ACIArb of Great Britain, a physiologist and biochemist
specializing in action mechanisms, independently reached and refined the
same conclusion. (Richardson BA. Cot mattress biodeterioration and SIDS.
Lancet 1990; 335: 670). (Richardson BA. Sudden infant death syndrome: A
possible primary cause. Jour Forensic Sci Soc 1994; 34:199-204). (Sprott,
T. James, OBE, PhD. The Cot Death Cover-up? Auckland, NZ: Penguin
Environmental, 1996.). (Smith, Lendon H, MD, with Hattersley, Joseph. The
Infant Survival Guide: Protecting Your Baby from the Dangers of Crib
Death, Vaccines, and Other Environmental Hazards. Petaluma, CA: Smart
Publications, 2000.). (Smith LH with Hattersley JG. Victory over crib
death. Townsend Ltr Doc/Patients 2000; Aug/Sept 50-54, 126-131). Sprott
and Richardson were originally looking at different toxic gases, although
now they both are concerned with the gases that Richardson identified in

They are heavier than air, and so a baby sleeping face-up is less likely
to inhale a lethal dose. This explains why the worldwide campaign for “on
back” sleeping lowered the SIDS rate in Western countries by one-third or
more. (Gibson AAM. Current epidemiology of SIDS. Jour Clinical Pathology
1992; 45 (suppl): 7-10).

These heavier than air gases, typically phosphines, arsines, (Cullen WR,
Reimer KJ. Arsenic speciation in the environment. Chem Rev 1989: 713-764),
and stibines are nearly odorless. They quickly dissipate unnoticed by
parent or caregiver. A child older than about one year or an adult so
exposed would react to the severe headache the gases cause.(Sprott TJ. The
Cot Death Cover-up? Op cit.).

The chemicals which are formed and the toxic gases are also present in
sheepskins and other "natural" bedding such as tea-tree bark fibers,
widely used in Australia and New Zealand. Depending on the soils on which
the sheep graze, their skins can contain phosphorus, arsenic and/or
antimony, often in sufficient concentration. Tea-tree bark normally
contains phosphorus, since the trees excrete toxins into their bark.
(Sprott TJ. Personal communication, 1999).

Fungal spores remain after a baby has slept in a crib, and so on arrival
of a second baby gas production starts sooner and in greater volume.

Consequently, a mother’s second baby has double, and the third (still
using the same mattress) has quadruple the sudden infant death syndrome
risk of her firstborn. For later infants and for those of low-income
single mothers the risk is higher still. (Tappin D, Brooke H, Ecob R,
Gibson A, Used infant mattresses and infant death syndrome in Scotland:
case-control study. BMJ 2002; 325: 1007. ) (Sprott TJ, The Cot Death Cover
-up? Op. cit.)

The risk of re-use of mattresses is graphically shown by the statistic
that when there has been a cot death in a family the risk of a second cot
death is 1 in 65, that is 50 to 100 times the risk of the first cot death.
(Fleming et al. Sudden death in infancy: the CESDI SUDI Studies, Table
3.15 on page 30. 1993-1996, 2000: p. 43.) Judges hearing “Shaken baby
syndrome” cases should take note. (See Al-Bayati Mohammed A., PhD DABT
DABVT. Analysis of causes that led to Baby Alan Ream Yurko’s Cardiac
Arrest and Death in November of 1997. Dec.
9, 2002.)

Any increase in temperature of baby, mattress and bedding makes the fungi
more active; they then generate gases faster. Warming mattress and
bedding, in contact with the baby, from 98.6oF to 104oF can increase toxic
gas generation tenfold or more. And some vaccines create recurring fevers
(Landrigan PJ, Witte JJ. Neurological disorders following live measles-
virus vaccination. Jour Amer Med Assoc. 1973; 223; 13: 1459-1462.),
possibly explaining bunching of SIDS deaths at predictable intervals

Prevention. In 1996 Dr. Jim Sprott perfected a gas-impermeable membrane
called BabeSafe® to separate the gases from the baby. Through December
1999, the New Zealand Ministry of Health had no record of any cot death in
a baby sleeping on a BabeSafe cover. (New Zealand Ministry of Health,
statement, 1999; Dec.). Dr. Sprott estimates the number of babies who have
been so protected, in New Zealand and elsewhere, now totals at least
120,000. There has still been no report of a cot death in a baby who was
so protected.

By contrast, during the six years in which BabeSafe covers have been in
use, about 520 New Zealand babies not sleeping on such covers have died of
cot death. The BabeSafe intervention has been 100% successful in
preventing cot death.

Joseph G. Hattersley, MA.
7031 Glen Terra Court SE, Olympia, WA 98503.

T. James Sprott, OBE, PhD.
10 Combes Rd., Remuera, Auckland 5, New

Competing interests:  
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

13 February 2003
Joseph G. Hattersley
Self-Employed Writer
T. James Sprott
7030 Glen Terra Court SE, Olympia, WA 98503