COVID-19, Special Stories, Fact Checking, Health

Chlorine dioxide: Those who sell this illegal, toxic substance in countries in the region

Photo: Alina Najlis y Santiago Quintero
Esta publicación también está disponible en: Español

Although chlorine dioxide is not authorized as a medication in Argentina, nor in Costa Rica, nor by any drug regulatory agency in the world, this substance is promoted as a “miracle solution” to treat various illnesses, including the coronavirus. It is promoted by people who present themselves as prominent church members who have open court cases, politicians, influencers, fans of Andreas Kalcker and even dietitians─ locals dedicated to selling food and natural products, similar to macrobiotics in our country.

Although some platforms have policies in place to remove content that can be harmful to health, Chequeado─ an Argentine website dedicated to verifying public speech, promotes access to information and data access─ identified dozens of posts that recommend this substance and sell it on WhatsApp.

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Her brother drank it out of fear and desperation. That’s what she repeated over and over again in front of dozens of journalists who interviewed her. Gloria Rios lost her brother, Juan Andres Ríos (51 years old), on August 11, 2020 after he ingested chlorine dioxide in the town of San Pedro, a city in Argentina in the province of Jujuy. According to Gloria, he acquired the substance from a local person who promoted it on social networks as a miracle cure for several ailments.

Chlorine dioxide is not authorized as a medication in Argentina by the National Administration of Medications, Food and Medical Technology (ANMAT) nor by any drug regulatory agency in the world. Not to treat the coronavirus, nor any other disease, although it has been promoted in Argentina by journalists and celebrities, and even by legislators from the National Congress.

In Costa Rica, since July 2020, the Ministry of Health has warned that this substance does not have a health record, refuting claims published on the Internet.

There is NO scientific evidence to support the use of these substances against COVID-19 or other illnesses as promoted through social networks, websites, misleading advertising or other means of communication. Therefore, its use puts the health of people who consume it or intend to do so at serious risk,” the Ministry’s press release noted.

Even though the substance is not licensed, it is sold just the same. It is promoted by people who present themselves as supposed bishops and supposed church leaders who have open court cases, and even politicians and influencers promote something that can lead to death.

It is a derivative of sodium chlorite, a chemical substance that is used as a bleach in the paper and textile industry, as a water purifier and as a disinfectant on inert surfaces. However, the substance has been promoted for years as a supposed “cure” for several diseases, including cancer, malaria and ALS (often called Lou Gehrig’s disease), among others, and it is sold illegally worldwide. With COVID-19 on the rise and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, every day, chlorine dioxide ends up in the hands of hundreds of people like Gloria’s brother who, in anguish, fall for the scam.

According to his family, Juan Andres Rios developed an allergic reaction after ingesting chlorine dioxide. His glottis, a part of the larynx, closed and he suffocated with aspiration, doctors explained to the family. He hadn’t taken any PCR test, and he never had official confirmation that he had COVID-19. In fact, after death, all of the people he lived with were swabbed and tested negative. However, out of fear and desperation in the midst of the pandemic, Rios decided to buy it and take it.

“We know that the people who sell these substances that promise the cure or miraculous salvation, like almost all of these conspiracy myths, start from a certain fact, but from there, they drift into totally unreal situations. The truth is that chlorine dioxide is a disinfectant substance due to its strong oxidizing power,” Aldo Saracco, a toxicologist who is a member of the Scientific Committee of the Argentine Toxicological Association (ATA) and of the Ibero-American Environmental Health Society, explained to Chequeado.

“If I apply it in vitro, that is to say, in a laboratory experience, it destroys all organic substances by damaging its protein coating. That’s how it destroys bacteria and viruses, as well as any cell, healthy or sick, in a general and non-specific way,” he explained.

When we apply this in vivo, that is to say, within a person, it does this action exactly the same. It alters viruses and bacteria, as well as the cells with which it comes into contact. This is how it damages the normal protein structures present in the digestive tract or at the level of the blood and the rest of the body,” Saracco remarked. That is to say, it destroys the virus and the body at the same time, without differentiating.

Who is Behind Selling the Substance in Argentina

As in Mexico and Colombia, in Argentina, there is no homogeneous profile of chlorine dioxide suppliers and, as it is not endorsed or regulated by health authorities, there is no homogenization in relation to how or how much it is taken.

In many cases, the dealers boast that they follow the formulas and instructions on the official website of Andreas Kalcker, a German pseudoscientist who defines himself as the creator of CDS (chlorine dioxide solution), a substance that is made using a base of MMS (miracle mineral solution). That is the case for Maximo, from Mendoza, who sends a copy of Kalcker’s book, “Forbidden Health,” by email to those who buy any of his products as a kind of “instruction guide” to prepare the product. Other sellers, on the other hand, attach explanatory videos.

Many sellers, however, know that they are dealing with a controversial substance, like a dietician in Cordoba, who doesn’t publish anything about it on her social networks, but admits that she sells it on WhatsApp. And in Martinez, in the province of Buenos Aires, another dietician prudently asks how someone got her contact information before providing information. They say they market “natural products” on Facebook, but once the trust barrier is passed, they admit on WhatsApp that they offer CDS although they clarify that, for the moment, they don’t have availability.

Chequeado doesn’t mention the names of these places or of other chlorine dioxide suppliers in this article to avoid the diffusion of substances not authorized by ANMAT because we contacted them as potential buyers, to prove how easy it is to get this toxic substance today, without identifying ourselves as journalists.

Dealer profiles vary. Stella, in Mar del Plata, who has a profile photo of the stars, prepares chlorine dioxide with her own hands, but is very cautious with the information she disseminates. In her case, she gives advice via WhatsApp but doesn’t send protocols and doesn’t deliver her products with a label. “We are having to protect ourselves a lot,” she acknowledges through an audio message. This is an important similarity to other sellers detected in places as dissimilar as Recoleta in Buenos Aires and Parana in Entre Rios.

The business network crosses borders. “I already gave you the contact of our distributor in Argentina!” a seller quickly points out from a Colombian prefix, hiding behind the name “Agua de Vida” (Water of Life), one of the euphemisms that chlorine dioxide is called. They turn to that euphemism, they themselves clarify, because Facebook removes any allusion linked to that substance.

When consulted by Chequeado, the company stated that in relation to COVID-19, they remove “content that might generate imminent physical damage such as human consumption of chlorine dioxide, false prevention measures or statements that deny the existence of the virus.” This applies to organic content and ads. To do this, they use a combination of technology, human review and community reporting.

Although many who promote this chemical know that they are under the microscope, they still take advantage of new technologies. This is the case of Rodolfo, from Tucuman, who specified that they send orders to everywhere in the country from “the pharmacy laboratory” and that payment methods include Mercadopago, bank transfer, bank deposit or payment by Pago Fácil (Easy Payment). In Mexico and Colombia, providers even offer to send the package by Uber or Didi when the delivery is within the same city.

For the hundreds of people who consume the substance, there are many WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook groups that explain how to prepare it or take it, depending on the type of sickness they have and depending on their medical history. That’s why providers also take the opportunity to offer training courses. Classes are held throughout the year by Zoom and are offered for $30.

When the slightest doubt is expressed about the product, some merchants try to persuade people about its benefits. “You have to decide whether to keep the TV on or to do CDS. That depends on you now, how easily influenced you are and how much fear you were inoculated with,” Gabriel advised when asked if there could be risks when taking it.

Outside of social networks, just googling reveals that there are still websites available that sell the substance covertly. One of these pages that offers shipments to Argentina─ which Chequeado won’t reveal the identity of─ claims to be managed by an Argentine “researcher” who has accumulated more than 50 registered Internet domains, dedicated to the sale of the same substance in Peru. This Argentine claims to be part of “Sinergia 8,” a group that claims to be made up of “researchers, doctors and therapists” from several countries in South America “who, in the last 10 years, have been investigating alternative protocols for true and permanent cures.”

His YouTube channel was removed for violating the platform’s rules, while on his Facebook account, which has more than 1,000 followers, he shares testimonies of people who consume chlorine dioxide and posts about the “good effects” of the substance. According to CDSPeru.net, one of the groups that belong to “Sinergia 8”, Kalcker is part of the group.

Chequeado verified that at least one of the telephone numbers available on the page offering CDS is in Mendoza. A person on the other end of the line recommended contacting the Global Coalition for Health and Life (COMUSAV– Coalición Mundial por la Salud y la Vida), an organization that brings together doctors and health professionals and is dedicated to “awakening the conscience of all people,” according to the website, and it promotes free advice for coronavirus cases.

The leading figure of this group in Argentina is Dr. Fabiana Guastavino, who openly says that more and more doctors and politicians are consuming dioxide.

Some, however, are now facing legal problems. Leonardo Daniel Binello, the alleged owner of the website mms.com.ar, another of the pages that sells kits to produce this substance, was denounced by lawyer Victor Castillejo Arias before the Fiscal Unit for the Investigation of Crimes against the Environment (UFIMA- Unidad Fiscal para la Investigación de Delitos contra el Medio Ambiente).

COMUSAV has a subsidiary in Costa Rica and has even held conferences via Zoom to defend the alleged contributions of the substance, with Andreas Kalcker participating. In our country, this group’s posts show that the president of the group is pediatrician Carlos Orozco.

Credit: Alina Najlis y Santiago Quintero

The Prophets of Chlorine Dioxide

Facebook groups are littered with images of Kalcker. But who is he?

His full name is Andreas Ludwig Kalcker and, on his official website, he describes himself as a “biophysical researcher.”

His degree was “accredited” as “Doctor of Philosophy in Alternative Medicine and Natural Biophysics” by the Open University of Advanced Sciences, a naturopathic university accused of selling degrees over the Internet. Open University has an address in Barcelona and a fiscal address in Miami, United States. On its website, it detaches itself from Kalcker and clarifies that “it does not maintain any type of link with the Genesis II Church, nor does it advocate the medical or therapeutic use of MMS.”

Based in Switzerland, Kalcker published two books: “CDS – Health Is Possible” and “Forbidden Health.” He claims that he began promoting chlorine dioxide after testing it on himself to cure his arthritis. His record is not spotless. In 2012, he was arrested by the Spanish Civil Guard for an alleged crime against public health, while he was giving another of his talks in Ibiza to promote and sell MMS.

He often gives lectures on the substance’s benefits, even at universities, and he also visited Argentina in the past. In December of 2019, months before the quarantine began, Kalcker gave a conference at the Hotel Bauen and another at the Cyan Hotel de las Américas, both in the City of Buenos Aires, on “oxygen therapies.” Depending on the day and the conference, admission cost from $25 to $100 per person.

In Argentina, he also has legal problems. Last August, he was denounced by Castillejo Arias before the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The criminal complaint was ratified in mid-January before the National Criminal and Federal Correctional Court No. 4, with federal judge Ariel Lijo presiding. The criminal investigation targets Kalcker and a group of Argentines who allegedly sold and distributed chlorine dioxide. As part of the case, in the beginning of last March, a clandestine laboratory was found and raided in Mar del Plata, by order of Judge Lijo.

Lijo’s court confirmed to Chequeado that at the moment, there are four defendants in the investigation, there are ongoing tasks in two homes linked to the case, and in the last raid, Kalcker’s books, which the defendant sold, were seized.

In Costa Rica, the former presidential candidate for the National Liberation party in 2002, Rolando Araya Monge, recommended the use of sodium chlorite to eliminate the novel coronavirus on a radio program, Cubases Tierno of CRC 89.1 FM, on Monday, April 6, 2020. On his Facebook page, he also suggested a supplier for purchasing the product directly, according to Delfinocr. These posts have already been censored.

When Health is Put on Trial

As vendors proliferate, however, so do deaths. Juan Andres Rios was not the only one. Days after his death in August 2020, the country was shocked by the death of a 5-year-old boy in Plottier, Neuquen, after ingesting the same substance. According to the hospital’s head of Medical Attention, Rafael Palomino, the parents confessed that they had administered it preventively. The medical expert reported that the child had died due to failure of multiple organs and that the findings are compatible with chlorine dioxide.

As the Public Prosecutor’s Office explained to Chequeado, more complementary studies were requested in the case, although as of the date of this publication, no one has been charged or arrested for that death.

Five months later, in January, chlorine dioxide was back on the public agenda, but this time due to a controversial court intervention. Through a precautionary measure, Judge Javier Pico Terrero, presiding over Federal Civil and Commercial Court No. 7, authorized the administration of chlorine dioxide to a 93-year-old patient named Oscar Garcia Rua, who was in critical condition at the Otamendi Sanatorium and died after ingesting it. The lawyer of the Martin Sarubbi family confirmed to this medium that the autopsy and the histopathological report (in other words, the examination of the tissues) have already been performed, although a complementary study is still needed to determine the causes of death.

After a back and forth between the Court and the Otamendi Sanatorium, neurosurgeon Dante Converti was the one who supplied the substance to Oscar Garcia Rua. The doctor ended up involved in an investigation opened by the Ministry of Health of the Nation, which discovered several irregularities regarding the doctor.

Not in Argentina, Nor in the World: An Unauthorized Substance

The National Administration of Medications, Food and Medical Technology (ANMAT) has already removed more than 700 advertisements through the Mercado Libre (Free Market) platform, within the framework of an agreement with the platform in force since 2012, as confirmed by the agency to this medium. But the effort seems insufficient. Chequeado identified several Facebook groups that exchange contacts of chlorine dioxide suppliers and are disseminated and exchanged among users.

Chlorine dioxide is not authorized by ANMAT or by any drug regulatory agency in the world as a medical treatment because there is no evidence of its efficacy.

As emphasized by several regulatory entities and scientific bodies, both at a national level (such as ANMAT, the Argentine Society of Infectology and the Argentine Toxicological Association) and internationally (such as the Pan American Health Organization, the Spanish Agency for Medications and Health Products and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration), its ingestion can cause irritation to the esophagus and stomach, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and severe poisoning, which can include serious hematological, cardiovascular and kidney disorders, as well as respiratory complications such as chronic bronchitis and dental erosions.

Only Bolivia advanced on the path of authorization. The Plurinational Legislative Assembly (ALP- Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional) passed a law that authorizes the preparation, commercialization, supply and use of the substance, considering that it is useful against COVID-19, which was promulgated at the insistence of the president of the ALP, Eva Copa, despite multiple observations made by the executive branch regarding the lack of scientific evidence.

The substance is used worldwide as a bleach in factories that produce paper, as a disinfectant for inert surfaces and in water treatment plants to make water drinkable. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a concentration of more than 0.8 milligrams per liter of chlorine dioxide in drinking water makes it no longer considered fit for consumption.

However, the amount recommended by the MMS “protocols” is 200 times higher than the maximum daily intake, Patricia Lucero, a biochemist specializing in toxicology, legal biochemist from the Faculty of Chemical Sciences and member of the Argentine Toxicological Association (ATA) explained to Chequeado.

“In our country (Argentina), chlorine dioxide is authorized as a surface disinfectant chemical agent (editor’s note: generally in the food industry), like bleach and other chlorinated derivatives, for that specific use, regulated by ANMAT, but ingesting it or applying it on people is clearly and totally inadvisable. It’s the same recommendation that is made for any other chemical substance, like it is recommended not to consume naphtha, bleach or the silica gel that comes in shoe boxes or wallets due to being chemical substances not suitable for human consumption,” explained Saracco.

“It’s very difficult to have a fleet of inspectors who go out to inspect. This is done through complaints. If it’s something clandestine, it’s very difficult to be looking for it because they don’t know how they do it, how they manufacture it. All medications have to be explicitly approved for use through clinical trials. What is not authorized is prohibited,” emphasized Ignacio Maglio, head of the Department of Legal Medical Risk for Muñiz Hospital and coordinator of the area of ​​Promotion of Rights for Huésped Foundation.

On Facebook, several of the arguments of users who consume and promote the toxic substance revolve around having taken it for years and that it doesn’t do anything to them because, according to them, “it’s not toxic” and it’s a disinfectant.“ In many of these videos, reference is made to publications that have nothing to do with the potential therapeutic efficacy but rather the use of the substance as a biocide─ in this case, as a disinfectant─ and, therefore, there is no solid pharmacological hypothesis that make us suppose that this substance can be used as a medicine, in addition to the fact that its use can cause toxic effects,” explained Palma while talking with this medium.

The actual argument they give is that, if it works in vitro, why not in vivo, or worse yet, if it worked for me, without a clinical trial being done, it works. That is extremely dangerous. When something without clinical validity becomes popular, many people stop using the scientifically proven conventional treatment to use the other supposedly miraculous one. A group of people reporting a beneficial effect is not a clinical study. It’s not scientific,” Palma stated.

Juan Andres Rios fell for the scam. He belonged to the immense list of people who are fooled by miracle cures on a daily basis. While science tries, tirelessly, to develop tried and tested solutions for both the coronavirus and other illnesses, at the same time, in desperation to find a quick solution, people like Gloria’s brother fall for misinformation that, taking advantage of fear and uncertainty, can end up being even more dangerous to health.

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This investigative report is the first part of “The Misinformants” series of investigative reporting being done by Latam Chequea, a network of Latin American fact checkers, coordinated by Chequeado, about different players who have misinformed people during the pandemic.

Colombia Check and Verificado in Mexico collaborated in this article for the information in Colombia and Mexico.

The Voice of Guanacaste incorporated explanations about the position of Costa Rican authorities and news from the country.

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