Feb 1, 2023
Bleach Is Toxic, But Plenty of Americans Are Still Drinking It
(Bloomberg) -- Enter the term “Miracle Mineral Solution” into the search bar on Amazon.com, and, sure enough, there’s a wide selection of products that online reviewers say cure everything from asthma to arthritis.
The problem is that the cure-all potion commonly known as MMS is, in essence, industrial grade bleach. And selling this toxic and sometimes deadly chemical concoction as medicine is illegal.
“It is designed to kill bacteria, pathogens, germs,” said Richard Parsons, a toxicologist at King’s College London. “It will do that to human tissue.”
One part sodium chlorite, a chemical disinfectant, and one part acid, MMS has been around since the 1990s. It shot up in popularity in 2020 after former President Donald Trump floated disinfectant as a possible Covid treatment.
The idea was swiftly debunked, but existing sellers seized on the global attention, catapulting a fringe operation into a big business where sellers on mainstream shopping sites like Amazon, Etsy, eBay and Poshmark openly hawk the stuff.
And some sellers minted millions: One of the largest was a church, the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, run by a family whose rise and fall is the subject of “ Smoke Screen: Deadly Cure,” a new podcast by Bloomberg, Neon Hum Media and Sony Music Entertainment.
Amazon told Bloomberg that sales of MMS are prohibited.“We have proactive measures in place to prevent this product from being sold, and we continuously monitor our store,” a spokesperson said. “Those who violate our policies are subject to action including potential removal of their account.”But several sellers remain on the site, under the guise of product descriptions like “chlorine dioxide kit.” Other online retailers hawking versions of MMS, including Etsy, eBay and Poshmark, removed listings after being contacted by Bloomberg News, citing violations of company policies.
But health experts say it’s only a matter of time before the products pop up again elsewhere online. Curbing sales of MMS has become a game of whack-a-mole that the Food and Drug Administration has played for over a decade, warning retailers and consumers of the compound’s dangers with little results.
Part of the reason that sales of MMS are so hard to quash is that while selling unproven treatments as medicine is illegal, it’s perfectly legal to buy and sell the ingredients that make up MMS. Many MMS sellers avoid running afoul of regulators by listing the stuff as water purification solutions rather than health aids, even sometimes citing FDA warnings about consumption in the listing fine print.
“They make use of common, everyday things that many of us have in our homes,” said Matt Motta, a professor of health policy at the Boston University School of Public Health.
One recent Etsy order came in a priority mail envelope with a pair of 2-ounce blue plastic bottles about the dimensions of travel-size shampoo containers. Instructions called for mixing sodium chlorite with hydrochloric acid, and then waiting 30 seconds for the liquid to change color. The resulting chemical reaction produced a powerful bleaching agent in the form of an amber liquid with a pungent odor.
The pamphlet also came with a warning: the product isn’t intended to cure or prevent any diseases. Though an accompanying package insert said that MMS was a “game-changer” for helping the body detox and included a quote from MMS’s founding father, Jim Humble, about the ability of the concoction to destroy poisons in the body. Humble later sought to distance himself from MMS, and said it could not cure anything.
The other force fueling sales of MMS is the marketing campaigns run by the sellers. MMS sales took off after Trump’s endorsement coincided with a pandemic that left more people isolated and those with health problems searching for answers.
In 2020, 4% of Americans reported drinking or gargling diluted bleach, according to a CDC poll conducted of about 500 online participants.
The Grenons became one of the best-known sellers of MMS, marketing the bleach solution through their church as a sort of religious sacrament. After Trump’s initial bleach comments, court documents show the family's monthly sales of the product more than tripled to about $120,000.
The family produced the bleaching agent out of their house and sold the solution via their website. They published a book and launched a podcast, YouTube channel and a newsletter. Sales skyrocketed past $1 million, according to a federal indictment of the Grenons, which led to criminal charges.
Their trial is scheduled for later this year, but the Grenons continue to tout MMS from their prison cells via the messaging app Telegram. Meanwhile, a new array of salespeople have popped up to peddle the dangerous wonders of MMS including Andreas Kalcker, who is accused of promoting a bleach-based Covid cure that was involved in the death of a five-year-old boy in Argentina.Though sellers may go to lengths to make their products appear legit, it’s clear many customers are buying MMS because they think it’s a cure-all. In online reviews, Amazon customers cited MMS as an antidote for myriad medical uses, from detoxification to treating colon infections. One Etsy customer reported using it to help their paralyzed dog.
“It's not that much of a stretch for someone to say, ‘Well, something kills a virus on the surface. It would, in theory, kill it inside of me,’” said Motta. “If people want to believe something is true, they will come up with the argumentation necessary to make it seem true to them.”
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