People are still drinking bleach—and vomiting and pooping their guts out

/ Bottles of Clorox bleach sit on a shelf at a grocery store.

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The US Food and Drug Administration this week released an important health warning that everyone should heed: —potentially life-threatening—and you should not do it.

The warning may seem unnecessary, but guzzling bleach is an unfortunately persistent problem. Unscrupulous sellers have sold “miracle” bleach elixirs for decades, claiming that they can cure everything from cancer to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, flu, hair loss, and more. Some have promoted it to parents as a way to cure autism in children—prompting many .

Of course, the health claims are false, not to mention abhorrent. When users prepare the solution as instructed, it turns into the potent bleaching agent chlorine dioxide, which is an industrial cleaner. It’s toxic to drink and can cause severe diarrhea, vomiting, life-threatening low blood pressure, acute liver failure, and damage to the digestive tract and kidneys.

In this week’s warning, the FDA noted that some sellers will warn consumers that vomiting and diarrhea are common but say that those unpleasant effects indicate the solution is “working.”

“That claim is false,” the FDA wrote succinctly.

The agency released a nearly identical warning back . But in this week’s consumer alert, the agency said that it has continued to receive “many reports” of consumers sickened by these bleach-based potions.

According to , poison control centers across the country have seen 16,500 cases involving chlorine dioxide since 2014. At least 50 of those cases were deemed life-threatening. Eight people died.

Online stain

The FDA says that the products have been hard to scrub out because of claims on social media, where the drinks are promoted along with false health information. Most of the claims can be traced back to Jim Humble, founder and “archbishop” of the , aka “.”

Humble has been touting the solution for nearly two decades, referring to it as MMS—Miracle or Master Mineral Solution. (It’s also known as the Miracle Mineral Supplement, the Chlorine Dioxide (CD) Protocol, and Water Purification Solution (WPS).) Humble is a former Scientologist who reportedly claims to be a billion-year-old god from the Andromeda galaxy.

He promotes the bleaching agent as an official religious sacrament that “has the potential to .” Church member Kerri Rivera (reportedly a bishop in the church) explicitly touted MMS enemas to parents as a cure for autism. Rivera claims that the solution kills pathogens in the intestines that cause autism (autism has no known “cure” and is not caused by pathogens in the gut).

The Church disputes that MMS is bleach, noting that it is not the same as the liquid bleach one might buy in a grocery store, which is sodium hypochlorite. But “bleach” is actually a generic term used to describe many stain-fighting chemical products, which often are chlorine based and work by strong oxidation reactions.

As the FDA explains:

Websites selling MMS describe the product as a liquid that is 28% sodium chlorite in distilled water. Product directions instruct consumers to mix the sodium chlorite solution with citric acid—such as lemon or lime juice—or another acid before drinking. In many instances, the sodium chlorite is sold with a citric acid “activator.” When the acid is added, the mixture becomes chlorine dioxide, a powerful bleaching agent.

In the last year, Amazon has drawn criticism for , as well as . As recently as November of last year, MMS carried the “ on the site. In an email to Ars, Amazon noted that it has since stopped selling MMS-related books, pointing to .

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