'Cook Report' cot-death claim faces dismissal

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The Independent Online
Independent experts are expected to reject any connection between cot deaths and PVC mattresses in a report released tomorrow.

The review was ordered by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Kenneth Calman, after Central TV's The Cook Report claimed that chemicals in mattresses could emit toxic gases.

The study will be published in this week's edition of the Lancet, the medical journal, and cost more than pounds 100,000 to complete. However, the experts will report that they could find no evidence to back the programme's theory, according to yesterday's Financial Times.

The Cook Report, broadcast in November 1994, alleged that deterioration of cot-mattress material led to the emission of toxic gases which could cause sudden infant death. It said that bed-wetting released a fungal reaction in phosphorus and antimony, chemicals used by some manufacturers to make mattresses flame-retardant.

As a result, Boots and other retailers withdrew mattresses from sale and thousands of parents contacted a special phoneline.

Manufacturers were hit hard, including Cassidy Brothers of Blackpool, who blame a pounds 90,000 fall in pre-tax profits on the effects of the programme.

Thomas Cassidy, the chairman of the company, said: "We were deluged with calls from members of the public. It went on for weeks. Sales immediately went down and several small companies went out of business."

In March, research carried out by the Scottish Cot Death Trust found that cot-death infants had lower levels of antimony in their bodies than infants who had died of other causes. "But by then the damage was done," said Mr Cassidy.

Of around 600,000 births each year there were 912 deaths in 1991 and 456 in 1992, a reduction of almost a half. The dramatic drop followed the Government's "Back to Sleep" campaign launched by the television personality, Anne Diamond, in December 1991. It advises parents to lay babies on their backs rather than stomachs. However, 10 babies still die from cot deaths every week.

Miss Diamond, whose son was a victim of cot death four years ago, was widely credited with galvanising authority into action. She said her son's mattress had been tested for the Cook report and it had high levels of antimony.

The idea that contamination of mattresses was linked to cot deaths was first mooted in the late 1980s when Barry Richardson, a consultant scientist specialising in deterioration of materials, discovered that industrial PVC was used for babies' mattresses.

A spokeswoman for The Cook Report said that the programme stood by its claims but "until we have seen the interim report it would be inappropriate to comment".

A survey earlier this year revealed that a baby whose mother and father smokes is five times more likely to be a cot death victim than one in a non-smoking home.

And, last year, scientists from Middlesex University said regional variations in infant deaths could be linked to water- logged soils which cause breathing problems.