Evaluation of cot mattress inner foam as a potential site for microbial generation of toxic gases

Hum Exp Toxicol. 2000 Dec;19(12):693-702. doi: 10.1191/096032700670028460.


Recent reports of biovolatilisation of phosphorus and antimony by anaerobic bacteria and of leaching of phosphorus and antimony fire-retardant additives from PVC cot mattress covers, indicate that the polyurethane inner-foam of cot mattresses could be a site for generation of toxic gases of group 15 elements. A toxic gas hypothesis for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) involving polyurethane foam of cot mattresses was proposed and tested experimentally. Levels of antimony, phosphorus, arsenic and bismuth were determined at four sites for 44 SIDS and 50 control (no death) cot mattress foams. There was no evidence to suggest that the levels of these elements in cot mattress foam have a causal relation to SIDS. Leaching of antimony trioxide from PVC mattress covers could account for detectable levels of this element in 52% of the cot mattress samples analysed. Volatile forms of antimony, phosphorus, arsenic and bismuth was not detected in the headspace of mixed or monoseptic cultures of anaerobic bacteria containing polyurethane foam. Past microbial activity had given rise to involatile methylated species of antimony in some of the cot mattress foams tested (61%, n = 24). Abiotic oxidation of biogenic trimethylantimony together with physical adsorption of methylantimony forms to the polyurethane foam matrix could account for the apparent absence of "escaped" volatile antimony species in culture headspaces of incubation vial. There was no evidence to suggest that levels of trimethylantimony or total methylantimony forms in cot mattress foams have a causal relation to SIDS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antimony / analysis
  • Arsenic / analysis
  • Bacteria, Anaerobic / metabolism*
  • Beds / microbiology*
  • Bismuth / analysis
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Gases / analysis*
  • Gases / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Equipment*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Organometallic Compounds / analysis
  • Phosphorus / analysis
  • Polyurethanes / chemistry*
  • Spectrophotometry, Atomic
  • Sudden Infant Death / etiology*
  • Volatilization


  • Gases
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Polyurethanes
  • Phosphorus
  • trimethylantimony
  • Antimony
  • Arsenic
  • Bismuth