By Susan Strongman of RNZ
A New Zealand website is advising people with symptoms of coronavirus to drink or inhale a bleach product sold by the Hauraki Plains-based "bishop" of a cult-like American organisation.
But experts warn that the product - chlorine dioxide - is dangerous, should not be taken, and will not cure Covid-19.
Ngatea man Roger Blake, who sells the bleach through his online business NZ Water Purifier Limited, is a 'bishop' of the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing.
The 'church' originated in Florida and is not religious. Its sole function is to promote the use of the bleach formula that it calls Miracle Mineral Supplement, or MMS, which its followers also sell. (To become a 'bishop' of the church, one can download a $320 video course, and must provide two video testimonials of people who have been 'treated' with MMS.)
Various claims about MMS made by Genesis II leaders include that it can cure HIV, hepatitis, acne, cancer and now Covid-19.
Blake told RNZ that millions of people around the world have "overcome" everything from cancer, to HIV to autism using MMS, that "thousands" of New Zealanders take it, and that he's seen an increase in the sale of the product since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
The New Zealand website that advises people to drink the bleach, Miracle Mineral, is linked to the same Ngatea address as Blake's online NZ Water Purifier business. The Miracle Mineral website provides instructions on how to consume the bleach product for both adults and babies.
The site claims that bleach has been "tested effective against Coronavirus". It explicitly tells users which of the products to buy from Blake's NZ Water Purifier business and how to prepare them, with a link to the website where sodium chlorite and hydrochloric acid can be purchased for $33 in two 125ml bottles as "Water Purification Solution".
When combined, the two liquids create a reddish-brown liquid, chlorine dioxide, which is commonly used as bleach.
Blake insists it is safe to drink chlorine dioxide - he does so himself, diluted with water to a concentration of 50 parts per million. If used to treat drinking water, the maximum concentration allowed by the Ministry of Health is 0.8ppm.
He said "dozens of studies" show it's safe for human consumption. "It's a no brainer."
'It's extremely dangerous to consume it'
Medical researcher Dr Shaun Holt said products with names like MMS, Miracle Mineral Solution, Miracle Mineral Supplement, CD protocol or similar, have been around for a long time. "I've been giving warnings about this for 10 years now.
"It goes without saying it's extremely dangerous to consume it. It's industrial strength bleach. There's not a jot of scientific evidence that it can help anything."
Consuming bleach can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration, which in severe cases can lead to death. The product can also be explosive if not handled with care.
Blake calls warnings about the dangers of drinking chlorine dioxide "fake propaganda." He said he wouldn't recommend it to people if he believed it was harmful.
In April this year Mark Grenon, an 'archbishop' of Genesis II, to whom the New Zealand Miracle Mineral website is registered, said he wrote to US president Donald Trump describing MMS as "a wonderful detox that can kill 99 percent of the pathogens in the body", that could "rid the body of Covid-19". Grenon, who lives in Colombia, also claimed that Covid-19 was not caused by a virus, but was "a scam by Bill Gates".
Days after the letter was sent, Trump was criticised for speaking at a press briefing about the possibility of injecting disinfectant into the body as a way of combating Covid-19.
Earlier this month, Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) issued fines totalling $151,200 to MMS Australia for alleged unlawful advertising of Miracle Mineral Solution and other medicines.
In a warning about the product, the TGA said MMS was often marketed as water purification drops - as is the case with the product sold in New Zealand.
"It contains a high concentration of sodium chlorite, which is a chemical used as a textile bleaching agent and disinfectant. Products containing high concentrations of sodium chlorite pose a serious health risk if consumed by humans," the TGA warned.
In April, a United States Federal Court entered a temporary injunction against Genesis II, preventing the sale of chlorine dioxide to treat Covid-19.
The US Food and Drug Administration cited concerns that "products that claim to cure, treat or prevent serious diseases like Covid-19 may cause consumers to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, leading to serious and life-threatening harm." In 2019, the FDA had warned parents not to give MMS to their children.
Under New Zealand's Medicines Act, it's unlawful to advertise the use of a product to prevent, alleviate, or cure any disease, without approval.
But Dr Holt said that in both New Zealand and overseas, people who sell the product play a "cat and mouse game" with authorities.
"They'll make claims illegally and then they'll try and hide them, or they'll make implied claims, they'll change the name of the product, or change the formulation slightly... It keeps cropping up."
Indeed this appears to be the case with the product advertised on the Miracle Mineral website, where a 2009 letter from Medsafe is posted with the recipient's name redacted (other letters posted on the same page are addressed to a 'Mr Blake' and a 'Mr Roskam'.)
The Medsafe letter requests the removal of therapeutic claims of Miracle Mineral Supplement in relation to AIDS, hepatitis, malaria, herpes, tuberculosis, autism, and cancers. At the time, the bleach product was available to buy directly from the Miracle Mineral website, rather than via a direct link to a separate business owned by Blake.
Two years later, at the height of the Ebola epidemic in western Africa, Mark Grenon and the Genesis II founder, former Scientologist and self-styled archbishop Jim Humble, who claimed to have used MMS to help cure Ebola, presented a $US500-a-head, three day seminar from Blake's Ngatea property.
In 2015, Medsafe again warned consumers that MMS was not safe. "These products produce chlorine dioxide which can cause serious harm to health when ingested. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and those of severe dehydration which may be life threatening."
On the Miracle Mineral website, users are advised that symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea are "a sign that the MMS is working".
Dr Holt says nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea are indications that the body has been poisoned, and that medical care should be sought immediately.
Waikato University biologist and science educator Dr Alison Campbell said there have been reports of parents giving MMS to autistic children as an enema, because they have been "sucked in by the narrative that it will 'cure' autism." There is evidence to suggest a New Zealand mother associated with an anti-vaccination Facebook group treated her autistic son with a chlorine dioxide enema on multiple occasions.
Campbell said that when people were frightened or worried, it made them desperate and vulnerable to proponents of what she called "magical thinking" - the belief that a single product like MMS could cure a multitude of ailments.
"There is no evidence at all that it is ever going to work as claimed. I think it's unethical to be promoting it and I think it's amoral to be claiming it cures something like Covid-19." (Blake called Campbell's comment "ridiculous" and added that he thought chemotherapy was immoral.)
Campbell said that though chlorine dioxide was used to kill pathogens on surfaces, it was not approved for use internally "because it kills living things".
The Ministry of Health is yet to respond to RNZ's queries about whether claims made on the Miracle Mineral website are in breach of the Medicines Act.
But the Ministry's medical safety authority Medsafe today published an alert warning consumers of the "potentially life-threatening side effects" of drinking MMS.
"Medsafe is not aware of any scientific evidence that these products are effective against pathogens in the body when the product is consumed," the alert reads.
"Do not buy or consume (drink) Miracle Mineral Solution products or associated products described as water purification solutions. Consuming these products is the same as drinking bleach."