Her brother drunk it out of fear and desperation. This is what she repeated, over and over again, to all the journalists that interviewed her. Gloria Ríos lost her brother, Juan Andrés Ríos (51 years old), on August 11th, 2020, after he drunk chlorine dioxide in the town of San Pedro, in the province of Jujuy. According to Gloria, her brother bought the substance from someone in town that promoted it on social media as a miraculous cure for different illnesses.
Chlorine dioxide is not authorized as medication in Argentina by the National Administration of Drugs, Foods and Medical Devices (ANMAT, as for the Spanish acronym) or any other food regulatory agency in the world, to treat coronavirus or any other disease, even though it is promoted by journalists and celebrities (see box), or even representatives of the National Congress.
While the substance is not authorized, it’s sold anyway. It’s promoted by people that present themselves as alleged bishops and leaders of a church, who have open court cases. Even politicians and influencers promote something that can be deadly.
Chlorine dioxide is a derivative of sodium chlorite, a chemical substance used as bleach in paper and textile industries, water treatments and as disinfectant for inert surfaces. However, it’s been promoted for years as a “cure” for several diseases, like cancer, malaria, and ALS, among others, and it’s sold illegally in Argentina and all over the world. In the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and due to its uncertainty, chlorine dioxide is sold to hundreds of people every day, who are distressed and, like Gloria’s brother, fall into the scam.
Juan Andrés Ríos’ family explained that he developed an allergy for drinking chlorine dioxide. The doctors told the family that his glottis closed and he died of bronchoaspiration. He never took a PCR test and there was never an official confirmation that he had coronavirus. In fact, after he passed away, all the people that lived with him got tested and their results came back negative. However, out of fear and desperation in the middle of a pandemic, Ríos decided to buy chlorine dioxide and drink it.
“We know that people that sell these substances that promise to be cures or miraculous salvations, like almost all conspiracy myths, start from a fact; but, from there, they drift into completely unreal situations. The truth is that chlorine dioxide is a disinfectant due to its strong antioxidant power,” said Aldo Saracco, toxicologist, member of the Scientific Committee of the Argentine Toxicology Association (ATA) and member of the Ibero-American Society of Environmental Health.
“If we apply it in vitro, in a laboratory experience, it destroys every organic substance by harming its protein cover. That’s how it destroys bacteria and viruses, as well as any other cells, healthy or sick, generally and randomly. When we apply it in vivo, to a person, it does the exact same thing: it denatures viruses and bacteria, as well as any other cells with which it comes into contact. That’s how it harms normal protein structures in the digestive tract or at the blood and the rest of the body,” added Saracco. This means that chlorine dioxide destroys the virus and the body at the same time, without differentiating.
Who’s Behind the Selling of this Substance in Argentina
The number of offers and prices in Argentina is surprising. Chlorine Dioxide is offered in different formats: bottles of 250 ml and packs of 5 l that cost between $ 700 and $ 7000 (the equivalent of around US$ 7 to US$ 70). If one would rather make it at home, “kits,” which include chlorine dioxide and the activator – hydrochloric or citric acid – cost between $ 600 and $ 3500 (the equivalent of around US$ 6 and US$ 36). Prices rise if the kit includes the pipette for preparation or reactive stripes, and it also varies according to the material of the packaging, plastic or PET glass.
Like Argentina, Mexico and Colombia don’t have a homogeneous profile of chlorine dioxide suppliers, and since it’s not authorized or regulated by any health authorities, there is no homogenization in relation to how or how much should be taken.
Dealers often boast of following formulas and instructions from Andreas Kalcker’s official website, a German pseudoscientist that defines himself as the creator of the Chlorine Dioxide Solution (CDS), a substance based on the Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS). Such is the case of Máximo, from Mendoza, who sends by e-mail a copy of Kalcker’s book “Forbidden Health” with every product he sells. “Guidelines” to prepare the product. Other sellers include explanatory videos.
Many sellers, however, know that they are dealing with a controversial substance. Like a dietitian in Cordoba, who doesn’t promote it on social media, but admits to sell it on WhatsApp. Another dietitian in Martinez, province of Buenos Aires, is careful and asks how someone got their phone number, before providing information. They claim to sell “natural products” on Facebook, but, once you gain their confidence, they’d admit to offer CDS, although they clarify that they are out of stock.
Chequeado doesn’t mention the names of these places or any other chlorine dioxide sellers in this article to avoid the diffusion of substances that are not authorized by the ANMAT, since we contacted them as potential buyers, to prove how easy it is to buy this toxic substance, and we didn’t identify ourselves as journalists.
Seller profiles vary. Stella, in Mar del Plata, who has a profile picture of the stars, makes the chlorine dioxide herself, but is very careful with the information she shares: she will give advice via WhatsApp, but she doesn’t send protocols or deliver her products with the tag on. “We need to be very careful,” she admits on a voice note. Similar cases were found in dissimilar places like Recoleta, in the City of Buenos Aires, and Paraná, in the province of Entre Ríos.
The business network crosses borders. “Let me send you the number of our distributer in Argentina,” quickly suggests a seller with a Colombian phone number hidden behind the name “Water of Life,” a euphemism used for chlorine dioxide. They clarify that they use that euphemism because Facebook deletes any mention of that substance. When consulted by Chequeado, Facebook representatives confirmed to delete any content related to COVID-19 that “can cause imminent physical harm, like consuming chlorine dioxide, false prevention measures and claims that deny the existence of the virus.” This applies to both the organic content and the ads. For this, they combine technology, human revision and community reports.
Although many supporters of this chemical substance know that they are being watched, they still take advantage of new technologies. Like Rodolfo, from Tucuman, who specifies that delivery orders are shipped nationwide from the “laboratory of the pharmacy” and payment methods include Mercado Pago, bank transfer, bank deposit or Pago Fácil. In Mexico and Colombia, dealers even offer to send the package via Uber or Didi, if buyers are in the same city.
For the hundreds of people that consume this substance, there are various groups in WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook that explain how to make it or drink it, according to one’s illness and medical history. This is why dealers also offer training courses. Classes are given on Zoom all year long and cost US$ 30.
When clients have doubts about the product, some sellers try to persuade them of its benefits. “You need to decide if you’d rather have the TV on, or make CDS. It’s up to you, how easily influenced you are, and how much fear they put on you,” advises Gabriel when asked about the risks of drinking it.
Outside social media, a simple Google search shows that there are many websites available that sell the substance secretly. One of those sites, which Chequeado won’t reveal the identity of, sells the product in Argentina and claims to be managed by an Argentine “researcher” that has over 50 Internet domains registered, destined to sell the same substance in Peru. This Argentine assures to be part of “Sinergia 8,” a group that asserts to include “researchers, doctors and therapists” from many South American countries, “that in the last ten years have researched alternative protocols for real and permanent cures.”
His YouTube channel was deleted for breaking the platform’s rules, while on his Facebook page, where he has more than 1,000 followers, he shares testimonies of people that drunk chlorine dioxide, and posts about the “benefits” of the substance. According to “CDSPeru.net,” Kalcker is a member of one of the groups that are part of “Sinergia 8.”
Chequeado confirmed that at least one of the phone numbers available on the page that offer CDS is in the province of Mendoza. A person on the other side of the line recommended to get in touch with the World Coalition for Health and Life (Comusav, as for the Spanish acronym), an organization that gathers doctors and health professionals and that aims to “awaken the conscience of all people,” according to its website, and that offers free advice for coronavirus cases.
The representative of this group in Argentina is Fabiana Guastavino, who openly declares that more and more doctors and politicians drink dioxide (see box).
Some of them, however, are already facing legal problems. The head of “mms.com.ar,“ another website that sells kits to produce this substance, Leonardo Daniel Binello, was denounced by lawyer Victor Catillejo Arias before the UFIMA agency (Unidad Fiscal para la Investigación de Delitos contra el Medio Ambiente), which investigates medical crimes.
Chlorine dioxide Prophets
Facebook groups are full of images of Kalcker. But who is he?
His full name is Andreas Ludwig Kalcker. On his website, he calls himself a “biophysical researcher.” His title was “certified” as “Doctor of Philosophy in Alternative Medicine and Natural Biophysics” by the Open University of Advanced Sciences, a naturist university accused of selling titles online. The university has an address in Barcelona and a fiscal address in Miami, it detaches itself on its website from Kalcker and assures that it “doesn’t have any links to the church Genesis II or supports the medical or therapeutic use of MMS.”
Settled in Switzerland, Kalcker published two books: “CDS Health is Possible” and “Forbidden Health.” He claims to begin promoting chlorine dioxide after drinking it himself to cure his arthritis. His record is not spotless. In 2012, while he was in Ibiza giving another one of his talks to promote and sell MMS, he was detained by the Spanish Civil Guard for an alleged crime against public health.
He usually gives conferences about its benefits, even in universities, and he also visited Argentina. In December 2019, months before the lockdown started in Argentina, Kalcker gave a conference at the Bauen Hotel and another one at the “Cyan Hotel de las Americas,” both located in the City of Buenos Aires, about “oxigenative therapies.” Tickets were between US$ 25 and US$ 100 per person, depending on the day and the conference.
He also has legal problems in Argentina. Last August he was denounced by Castillejo Arias before the Fiscal Public Ministry, where the legal complaint was ratified in mid-January before the National Criminal and Federal Correctional Court No. 4, preceded by Federal Judge Ariel Lijo. The criminal investigation accuses Kalcker and other Argentines of allegedly selling and distributing chlorine dioxide. As part of the case, last March, a clandestine laboratory was found and raided in Mar del Plata by order of Judge Lijo.
Representatives of Lijo’s courtroom confirmed to Chequeado that, so far, there are four defendants in the investigation. Tasks are also being performed in two different addresses, and, during the last raid, Kalcker’s books were seized, which the defendant used to sell.
Among the sellers of chlorine dioxide, one person stands out: Luis Enrique García, who introduces himself as a “bishop” and “the only authorized distributer.” He offers his “sacrament” via email, but the price changes if it’s for “personal” or “family” use, and if it’s sold in combo packs or with the activator, hydrochloric acid. Parcels can be delivered by post and payment options include bank transfers or Mercado Pago.
Regardless, García is careful. He clarifies that “for obvious reasons” he doesn’t use ecclesiastic tags on his products anymore, and that his bottles “are wrapped in a white paper,” without mentioning “the Genesis II Church,” that he claims to represent.
The “Genesis II Church of Health and Healing” was founded by Jim Humble, the “creator” of MMS, and Mark Grenon, the church’s leader, who retired in 2017. Grenon and his son were arrested and extradited in Colombia and sent to Miami under the request of the American Justice Department, accused of making, promoting and selling tens of thousands of bottles containing the “Miracle Mineral Solution” as a treatment against several diseases, like autism, malaria and cancer.
They know they’re crossing the line. As soon as you open the website, a disclaimer warns people about the substance being forbidden: “Attention: MMS and CDS are forbidden by the ANMAT and the FDA. The information on this site was published before the prohibition and for the people that want to contribute with the incarcerated bishops. We do not sell MMS, CDS, or any elements to make them. Do not insist.” Another disclaimer reads: “Attention: MMS and CDS were forbidden by the ANMAT in Argentina and the FDA in the United States; its use is not authorized in human beings; the information on this site was published before the prohibition.”
The website includes several tags with protocols, depending on the disease and user experiences, and questions about the consumption of chlorine dioxide, which date back to 2011. “Where can I buy MMS, in the City or the Province of Buenos Aires?”, asked a user named Roberto on May 27th, 2011. “Hi Roberto, you can buy it in the City of Buenos Aires or in Merlo, province of San Luis, Argentina. You can also collect it yourself; we can do whatever is more convenient for you. Once you buy it, we’ll send you the details by post. Stay healthy! Luis.”
In other parts of Latin America, the church is also represented. According to the Chilean website El Dinamo, for example, this “church” has at least two “bishops” and over 200 ministers. Chequeado tried to contact García as journalists, but, at the time of publication, hadn’t received any answers.
When Health is Put on Trial
As vendors proliferate, so do deaths. Juan Andrés Ríos wasn’t the only one. After his death in August 2020, the country was in a state of shock by the death of a five-year-old boy in Plottier, province of Neuquén, after ingesting chlorine dioxide. According to the hospital’s Chief Medical Officer, Rafael Palomino, the boy’s parents confessed to have given him the substance as a precaution. The medical report confirmed that the boy died due to multiple organ failure and that results concur with the ingestion of chlorine dioxide.
The Public Fiscal Ministry explained to Chequeado that more complementary studies were requested, although as of the date of this publication, no one had been put under arrest for this death.
Five months later, in January 2021, chlorine dioxide was once again on the public agenda. This time, it was due to a controversial intervention of the Justice Department. As a precautionary measure, judge Javier Pico Terrero, head of the Federal Civil and Commercial Court N° 7, authorized treatment with chlorine dioxide for a critically ill 93-year-old patient of the Sanatorio Otamendi, who passed away after receiving the substance. The family’s lawyer, Martín Sarubbi, confirmed that the autopsy and histopathology report (i.e., an analysis of the tissues) had already been done, but there is one complementary study left before confirming the cause of death.
After a lot of back and forth between the Justice Department and the Sanatorio Otamendi, neurosurgeon Dante Converti administered the substance to Oscar García Rúa. However, the doctor is now in the middle of an open investigation of the Ministry of Health that found several irregularities.
“When someone takes an illegal substance, who prescribes it? Who sells it? Where can we find it? Those are the questions,” said Santiago Palma, pharmacists, biochemist and researcher of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET, as for the Spanish acronym) to Chequeado. “It’s different when there’s a petition for judiciary protection that requests a legal treatment that’s not covered by any health insurance, because, in that particular case, the treatment is approved and can therefore be found legally. If through the judicialization of medical treatments, a judge promotes the ingestion of an unapproved substance, then it will have to be purchased illegally because there aren’t any safe places where to buy it,” he added.
An Unauthorized Substance
Argentina’s National Administration of Drugs, Foods and Medical Devices (ANMAT, as for the Spanish acronym), confirmed to Chequeado to have deleted over 700 ads in Mercado Libre, within the framework of an agreement with the platform valid since 2012. But this isn’t enough. Chequeado identified several Facebook groups that exchange chlorine dioxide dealers’ numbers, which are promoted between the users.
Chlorine dioxide is not authorized as a medical treatment by the ANMAT or any other regulatory agency in the world because there’s no evidence of its efficiency. According to a number of regulatory and scientific bodies, in Argentina – like the ANMAT, the Argentina Society of Infectious Diseases and the Argentine Toxicology Association – and the rest of the world – like the Pan American Health Organization, the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Medical Devices and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration – taking chlorine dioxide can irritate the esophagus and stomach and cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomits, diarrhoea and severe intoxication, which may include severe hematologic, cardiovascular and renal disorders, as well as breathing complications, like chronic bronchitis and dental erosion.
Bolivia is the only country that authorized it – in a way. The Plurinational Legislative Assembly (ALP, as for the Spanish acronym), approved a law that allowed the production, commercialization, distribution, and use of chlorine dioxide to prevent and treat COVID-19, which was promulgated by the President of the ALP, despite multiple observations presented by the Executive Power regarding the lack of scientific evidence. Former Bolivian Minister of Health Edgar Pozo considered the substance to be “permissible” as “alternative medicine.” However, nowadays (or until April 22nd, 2021), chlorine dioxide is no longer in the health records of the Bolivian State Agency for Medicines and Health Technologies.
The substance is used worldwide as bleach in paper and textile industries, water purifier in water treatments and disinfectant in inert surfaces. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, chlorine dioxide should not exceed its maximum residual disinfectant level of 0.8 mg/L in water – otherwise it’s no longer fit for human consumption.
However, in the MMS, the amount recommended by “protocols” is 200 times more than the maximum daily intake, explained Patricia Lucero to Chequeado, biochemist specialized in toxicology, a legal biochemist of the Faculty of Chemical Sciences and member of the Argentine Toxicology Association.
“In Argentina, chlorine dioxide is approved as a surface disinfectant, chemical agent (generally, of the food industry, ed), like bleach and other chlorine derivatives, for that specific use only, and it’s regulated by the ANMAT, but its ingestion is clearly and absolutely contraindicated. This is the same recommendation made for any other chemical substances, just like it’s recommended not to drink fuel, bleach or the silical gel that comes in shoe boxes or purses, because they are not fit for human consumption,” explained Saracco.
“It’s very hard to have a fleet of inspectors available, that’s only done after complaints. If the substance’s clandestine, it’s very hard to find, because we don’t know how it’s being made and produced. All medications have to be explicitly approved after clinical trials designed for a specific use. If it’s not authorized, then it’s forbidden,” concluded Ignacio Maglio, Head of the Department of Legal Medical Risks for Muñiz Hospital and coordinator Promotion of Rights for Huésped Foundation.
On Facebook, many users that consume and promote this toxic substance argue that they’d been taken it for years and it doesn’t affect them because, according to them, “it’s not toxic” and it’s a disinfectant. “Many of those videos mention posts that have nothing to do with the potential therapeutic efficiency, but its use as a substance – in this case, a disinfectant. Therefore, there isn’t a solid pharmacological hypothesis that would make us think that it can be used as medicine. Besides, its consumption can have toxic effects,” said Palma to Chequeado.
“The argument that they give is that if it works in vitro, it should work in vivo. Or even worst ‘If it worked for me, without any clinical trials, it works.’ This is extremely dangerous. When something that isn’t clinically valid becomes popular, many people would quit conventional, scientifically approved treatments to use other, allegedly miraculous, cures. That a group of people claim to have benefited from it is not a clinical study, it’s not scientific,” concluded Palma.
Juan Andrés Ríos fell for the scam. He belongs to the long list of people that are deceived daily with miraculous cures. Meanwhile, science is tirelessly trying to develop proven and tested solutions for coronavirus and other illnesses. In the desperation of finding a quick solution, people like Gloria’s brother fall for disinformation that, taking advantage of fear and uncertainty, can become even more harmful for their health.
This research is part of “The Disinformants,” a series of investigations about different actors who have disinformed during the pandemic conducted by LatamChequea, the Latin American fact-checkers network coordinated by Chequeado that includes editions from participating organizations and journalist Hugo Alconada Mon.
Valoramos mucho la opinión de nuestra comunidad de lectores y siempre estamos a favor del debate y del intercambio. Por eso es importante para nosotros generar un espacio de respeto y cuidado, por lo que por favor tené en cuenta que no publicaremos comentarios con insultos, agresiones o mensajes de odio, desinformaciones que pudieran resultar peligrosas para otros, información personal, o promoción o venta de productos.