Marketing ‘miracles’ via an outdoor supplies website
After hearing of another Wellington mother of an autistic child who had purchased a 'detoxification' solution promoted by a self-styled "church of health and healing", Lynn Grieveson turned to Google and was surprised to find herself on an innocuous-looking Kiwi camping and outdoors supplies website.
Following warnings from Medsafe, the Genesis II "church of health and healing" based in South America now directs people seeking a cure for cancer, hepatitis and AIDS - or wanting to 'detoxify' their autistic children - to a New Zealand website selling water purification products.
Roger Blake, who runs the NZ Water Purifier Ltd website to which the church-run site directs potential customers, says "there's thousands" of New Zealanders using the products as an alternative health treatment - on the theory that if the chemicals purify drinking water they can also detoxify humans who are "70 percent water".
He says they are also exporting the products.
"We've been involved in it for about eight years now I think, and it'd be 3000 or 4000 within New Zealand and then we also send a lot of products overseas. All over the world", he says.
Blake's innocuous looking NZ Water Purifier Ltd website lists water purification products alongside scrolling images of campsites and rainwater tanks and a "delivered worldwide" headline.
The products are labelled and listed only as "water purification solution", and Blake says he has customers who use them for exactly that - but says they will also work to cure an "over-toxified" body.
"That's why it's sold as a water purifier, because it is a water purifier, but what you've got to remember is the body is 70 percent water so it's going to be doing the same thing in the body as what it's doing in these other water applications. And then you take on the fact that it's clinical proven to be safe for human consumption, put those things together and it's a no-brainer that it's going to be safe in the human body," he says.
The solutions contain sodium chlorite, and are sold with hydrochloric acid or citric acid to combine and create chlorine dioxide. The site also sells ready-prepared chlorine dioxide solution. Medsafe says it is aware of no scientific evidence that the products work against pathogens or toxins in the body when consumed.
Chlorine dioxide is used, in very dilute concentrations, for water chlorination and disinfection as well as to bleach wood pulp and eradicate bed bugs.
Most other New Zealand camping suppliers online instead sell hydrogen peroxide or iodine-based water purification products.
The church of chlorine dioxide
But chlorine dioxide has also been marketed since 2006 by American Jim Humble as "Miracle Mineral Solution", or "Master Mineral Solution" (MMS). Humble set up the "Genesis II Church of Health and Healing", now based in the Dominican Republic, which teaches that taking MMS as a "sacrament" can treat "90 percent of the diseases known to man" including cancer and malaria.
After learning that another Wellington mother with an autistic child had bought the chemicals, it only took me 10 seconds on Google to find the 'miracle mineral nz' website, which then directed me to Blake's camping and rainwater purification supplies.
MMS has been the subject of repeated warnings by authorities in the US, the UK, Australia and Canada but remains available online at "miracle mineral solution" branded websites. Here in New Zealand, Medsafe ordered the MMS website to remove references to therapeutic claims, and issued warnings about the product in 2010 and again in 2015. It says chlorine dioxide can cause serious harm to health when consumed.
So the 'miracle mineral nz' website, which lists its owner as Colombian resident Mark Grenon (an "Archbishop" of the Genesis II church), now features a disclaimer that it is only for educational purposes. It has complicated instructions on the "sacraments" and protocols for taking MMS as well as testimonials from customers who claim success using it to treat autism, asthma, herpes, and various types of cancer.
The site says chlorine dioxide "is officially accepted to be a highly effective destroyer of pathogens, fungi, disease, bacteria and viruses", and asks: "If bleach is dangerous, then why did authorities in quake-stricken Christchurch advise people to put bleach in their drinking water?"
"Apparently New Zealand law restricts the advertising of certain products known to demonstrate therapeutic benefits. Therefore, regardless of the many thousands of success stories worldwide, and recommendations that you may have heard from family and friends; this website cannot and will not make any public claims that MMS 'treats' or 'cures' serious diseases or conditions," it says, before listing numerous conditions including asthma, diabetes, autism, heart disease, arthritis, AIDS, cancer, leukaemia, malaria, hepatitis, herpes, multiple sclerosis, and dementia.
Instead, at the top of the homepage, there is now a link to Blake's camping and rainwater purification supplies.
Asked if Medsafe was aware that, despite warnings, the seller was getting around it by directing customers to another, innocuous-looking site, Medsafe compliance manager Derek Fitzgerald responded in an email: "No. In the past Medsafe has taken regulatory action against the identified supplier within New Zealand and has published warnings … drawing attention to the unproven claims about the product's claimed uses and warning about the potentially toxic contents."
Fitzgerald said Medsafe believed "both sites referred to" were based overseas.
Blake confirmed to Newsroom that the 'miracle mineral nz' website is owned by Grenon, who he said was based in the Dominican Republic.
"But we sort of manage answering emails from time to time, that sort of thing. We all sort of work together, the whole structure is set up as a church, they call it the Genesis II church of health and healing. It's sort of like a network where we all work together, the people over there might get an inquiry, they'll forward an email onto me and ask if I can help and that sort of thing, we all work together and it's a really good structure."
He says Medsafe and other media reports have been deceiving people by focusing on the toxic sodium chlorite precursor, when actually the final prepared product is chlorine dioxide.
Medsafe says it has "received no adverse reaction reports in relation to MMS".
Its warnings say that taking MMS can cause "nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and symptoms of severe dehydration which can be life-threatening".
"I'm not an idiot and everything I have had to do with MMS has been positive. I haven't had anyone say 'this nearly killed me' or anything. If it did I would drop it like a hot potato", Blake says.
The US Environmental Protection Agency says around five percent of large water-treatment facilities (serving more than 100,000 persons) in the US use chlorine dioxide to treat their drinking water, but adds that at high levels it can cause irritation to the mouth and throat as well as respiratory problems.
Using very dilute chlorine dioxide may be an accepted water purification method but, along with the risk of accidental overdose or ingestion of the toxic precursor, there is the risk people may be convinced by the claims to use it to treat serious diseases instead of using conventional methods.
Blake says "only a very small percentage" of his customers want it to dose their autistic children (in the hope of seeing an improvement in their symptoms which they believe are due to environmental or 'vaccination related' toxins).
"I don't always hear what people want it for, when people place an order I don't know what they want it for. But it would be under 5 percent [for autism]," he says.
"A lot of it is for cancer. I personally know people who have got rid of cancer within a few weeks - without all the horrible side effects that you get from the mainstream options.
"We've had people who have cured their cancer for under $20."