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Minister Wades Into Sheepskin Toxic Gas Debate

Minister Wades Into Debate Over Sheepskins Toxic Gas

T James Sprott OBE 10 Combes Road
MSc PhD FNZIC Remuera
Consulting Chemist Auckland 5
Forensic Scientist NEW ZEALAND

Phone & fax:
64-9-5231150
sprott@iconz.co.nz

16 September 2000


MEDIA RELEASE

MINISTER OF HEALTH WADES INTO DEBATE OVER
TOXIC GAS GENERATION FROM SHEEPSKINS

* * * * * * *

Dr Jim Sprott has described as "misleading" a statement made by Minister of Health, Annette King, in answer to a Parliamentary question about risks posed to babies by sheepskins.

Responding to a question by ACT MP Rodney Hide, Mrs King described research presented by Dr W R Cullen at the SIDS 2000 Conference as "attempts to generate certain gases from sheepskins under laboratory conditions".

"Mrs King should get the facts," said Dr Sprott. "Dr Cullen is a world expert in the chemistry of arsine gases, and he proved conclusively the generation of trimethylarsine gas from New Zealand sheepskins used as baby bedding." (SEE EXTRACT FROM DR CULLEN'S PAPER, "MICROBIAL STUDIES OF SHEEPSKIN BEDDING", FOLLOWING THIS MEDIA RELEASE.)

Arsines are among the most toxic gases. In the late 19th century it was proved that a form of arsine generated by fungus in the household environment had caused the deaths of a large number of children.

"Chemical analyses carried out in 1996 showed that New Zealand sheepskins can contain arsenic," said Dr Sprott. "And now a highly qualified researcher has proved that common household fungus can generate arsenical gas from New Zealand sheepskins."

Dr Sprott said that the Ministry of Health had a clear responsi- bility to tell New Zealand parents that highly toxic gas can be generated from sheepskins used as baby bedding.

"The Ministry of Health was a sponsor of the SIDS 2000 Confer- ence," said Dr Sprott. "What's the point of the Ministry spending taxpayers' money on scientific conferences, if it then ignores crucial research reported at such conferences?"

* * * * * * *

Following is an extract from the paper by Dr W R Cullen titled "Microbial Studies of Sheepskin Bedding" which was presented at the SIDS 2000 Conference in Auckland on 11 February 2000. The presentation was attended by Dr P G Tuohy, Chief Advisor for Child & Youth Health, Ministry of Health.

"Sheep skin studies.

Samples of four sheepskins were supplied [from New Zealand]. Two of the skins were new, a healthy infant slept on the third, and an infant died of SIDS whilst sleeping on the fourth... [The fungus] S brevicaulis grows very easily on the skins when samples are placed in a suitable growth medium and inoculated with the fungus. Such cultures slowly produce trimethylarsine... S brevi- caulis can grow [on] sheepskin with the release of trimethylarsine."

Following is a statement contained in a report by environmental scientist, Dr M G Fitzpatrick, to the New Zealand Cot Death Association in December 1997:

"[A]rsines... are generally considered among the most toxic and deadly compounds known to humanity."


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