Wearing a white short-sleeved shirt and brimmed hat with green crystal adornment, an elderly man named Jim Humble explains in a YouTube video what he claims is a cure for an abscessed tooth, which uses a so-called miraculous new healing substance.
"You may not have heard of MMS before, but it's pretty well known in some areas of the world and thousands of people have used it," says the self-styled archbishop.
He picks up three bottles on the table and mixes the liquids to create what he describes as a miracle cure.
Humble explains that his Genesis II church teaches people to treat themselves using Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), and which he says "kills most of the diseases of mankind."
In fact, the mixture is chlorine dioxide, an industrial bleach which medical authorities around the world have warned can cause nausea, vomiting and severe dehydration if ingested in high doses.
In a 2010 health warning, the US Food and Drug Administrationsaid it had received "several" reports of people suffering "life threatening low blood pressure" from dehydration after taking MMS.
Twenty-three people eventually made complaints registered in the FDA's consumer products and prescription drug adverse event reporting database. Two deaths were reported; four cases were labelled "life threatening"; and one patient was classified as "disabled."
The FDA says it is not aware of any research indicating that MMS is effective in treating the illnesses its proponents claim it can cure.
Chemist Dr Kat Day writes in her blogthat the amounts of chlorine dioxide in MMS is likely to be more than 3,000 times over the recommended safe limit, causing "irritation to the mouth, oesophagus, and stomach." Some proponents urge people to take the substance up to eight times a day.
In 2016, the UK's Food Standards Agency saidthe substance "can cause serious damage to health and in some cases even death."
Campaigners against the substance say that social media, and YouTube in particular, are providing a platform for advocates of these chemicals to spread their false claims unchecked.
YouTube took some action to remove and downrank videos after Business Insider inquired about them, but has left others unchanged.
Humble, and others who promote his substance, all issued vehement defenses of MMS when contacted by Business Insider, and maintain that it is not harmful.
One described Business Insider as a "FAKE NEWS" organization engaged in a conspiracy to conceal the curative properties of MMS.
Humble writes on his website that after leaving the Church of Scientology about 35 years ago he discovered MMS in 1996 while prospecting for gold in South America.
In Humble's video, he says his substance is the product of three chemicals:
Health authorities say that when sodium chlorite is mixed with an acid, it produces chlorine dioxide: a type of industrial bleach used for stripping textiles. The substance has alarmed health officials from around the world.
In the US, the FDA has received dozens of complaints claiming the substance caused injuries and two deaths.
Humble boasts that he has treated hundreds of thousands of people with MMS, and says there are thousands of followers of the Genesis II church globally. However, Business Insider was unable to verify these claims without more evidence.
In a statement to Business Insider, Humble denied claiming that MMS cures diseases:
"I want to clarify a very important point. Many people naturally say 'MMS cures' this or that. I've made this same statement myself from time to time in certain situations, when put on the spot, or when the words were put in my mouth, or as a matter of going with the flow of terminology that others use. In our speech and in our global society, we often blur the lines with words and their meanings.
"But for the record, I want to clarify here, MMS does not cure disease. MMS kills pathogens and destroys (oxidizes) poisons. When pathogens and poisons in the body are reduced or eliminated, then the body can function properly, and thereby heal. I often say 'the body heals the body.' MMS helps to line things up so the body can do just that."
Emails to Humble requesting further comment went unanswered.
David Colquhoun, Emeritus Professor of Pharmacology at University College London, hit back at Humble's claims.
"Every quack claims that their treatment will eliminate 'poisons' or 'toxins'. They never say what these might actually be and never cite any evidence (because there isn't any)," he said.
In 2010, a US woman named Sylvia Fink died when sailing off the coast of the Vanuatu islands in the South Pacific, only 12 hours after having taken MMS to ward off malaria. While her autopsy was inconclusive, her husband maintains that MMS was responsible for her sudden death, according to ABC News.
In 2015, Louis Daniel Smith of Spokane, Washington, was sentenced to four years in federal prisonfor selling MMS as a cure for illnesses including cancer, AIDS, and malaria, over the internet from his business Project GreenLife. The MMS taken by Fink had been traced back to the company, according to a complaint filed with the US Food and Drugs Administration by her husband, Doug Nash, in 2011.
And, in documents obtained by Business Insider, a complainant to the FDA claimed MMS was the cause of the 2013 death of a 48-year-old woman, who suffered a "large intestine perforation" after taking the substance.
According to these documents, 25 people who used MMS have complained to the FDA of symptoms including life-threatening cardiac disorders, chronic abdominal pain and vomiting.
In Canada, government health authorities told Business Insider they had received several reports of negative reactions by people who took MMS. Two reports included acute kidney injury, and one report described the development of a blood disorder. "Ingesting sodium chlorite can cause poisoning, kidney failure and harm to red blood cells that reduces the ability of the blood to carry oxygen, among other effects. It can also cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea," the agency said.
MMS has been cited in media reports of injuries and hospitalisations in countries including South Africaand Australia. Health authorities in the Republic of Ireland told Business Insider that in 2015 three members of the same family were admitted to hospital after taking MMS. All three later recovered.
In November 2018, Canadian Stanley Nowak pleaded guilty to selling MMS, though he was not ultimately imprisoned.
Despite the bans and convictions, the largely unchecked promotion of the substance has continued to grow, using social media platforms — particularly YouTube — to reach a global audience.
And it's not just those choosing to take substance themselves who are at risk. Some parents force their autistic children to take the substance and even give them MMS enemas, falsely believing it will "cure" them, according to discussions in closed Facebook groups promoting the substance. Autism is a developmental condition which does not have a "cure."
Business Insider uncovered a network of hundreds of videos promoting MMS which were easily available on YouTube until last month.
When Business Insider made YouTube aware of the videos, most were removed, and the channels hosting them were banned. The site also said it had altered its search algorithms to avoid surfacing MMS content so readily.
Some videos Business Insider asked about were not removed. YouTube explained that that the site does not proactively search out content violating its policies, but acts when content is flagged to it.
Parents are wary of admitting they have given the substance to their autistic kids in case the authorities intervene
Autism activists have told Business Insider that parents are especially wary of admitting they have used the substance on their children, fearing that social services could take their children away if they find out.
Fiona O'Leary, an activist and founder of charity Autistic Rights Together, has spent six years campaigning against MMS, and served as a witness in an Irish criminal trial. She says that it is inside closed Facebook groups that the full effects of MMS become clear.
Both O'Leary and Emma Dalmayne, a British campaigner who runs the charity Autisticate, joined groups where parents discuss giving MMS to children, and have published screenshots of the exchanges on their websites.
Some moderators of a now-closed Facebook group, "Kerri Rivera's CDAutism," advise parents on how to avoid the attention of social services.
One moderator of the forum advises parents not to share that they're giving their child MMS with "therapists, nurses, and school officials," to keep evidence of MMS use out of sight when therapists visit, and warns that "any protocol you use that is beyond the mainstream 'standard of care' can get you in trouble if you disclose publicly."
Inside the groups, parents shared pictures of their children with severe rashes, bloody faeces and lesions after being forced to bathe in and consume MMS. Parents also reported symptoms including seizures and vomiting.
One was concerned that her three-year-old son could have liver damage after being given ten doses a day, writing "he is getting yellow. Very obvious. His face, both palm and sole of feet is quite yellow."
"My daughter vomits every day now. We been on cd [chlorine dioxide] for 2 months- and since 1 months she is vomiting, almost every day. Sometimes twice, today three times! Have any of you had this?" writes another parent.
Moderators try to reassure parents, describing the distressing reactions as a sign of parasites passing out of the body, and advise them to up the dosage.
After one parent complained that their toddler developed "rashes" after taking MMS for a month, a moderator wrote "rashes are part of the detox process for many. The skin is the biggest detox organ we have," and advised the parent to use MMS spray and baths to treat the child.
O'Leary and Dalmayne said that parents are often drawn to MMS because they have been persuaded by anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists that autism is caused by parasites delivered though vaccinations. It is sometimes argue that these can be "cleansed" using MMS.
Proponents of MMS also believe that the medical establishment has conspired to suppress evidence of the miraculous curative benefits of the substance.
O'Leary, the Irish campaigner, told Business Insider: "Autistic children have to drink this up to 16 times a day then are subjected to six enemas of this bleach product daily, and the side effects are horrific.
"It's one of the worst child abuses out there and it seems to be normalised because these children have a disability so it's acceptable to do this to them."
"A lot of cancer patients are being duped by these products as well, not just people with autism. So really desperate people, people with terminal illness," she said.
Activists say that YouTube has become a key platform for followers of Humble as they seek to spread their message, especially as other social media platforms become increasingly proactive in combating disinformation.
"They are turning to YouTube and depending on it for the fake testimonials. So it is very important," Emma Dalmayne, the Autisticate campaigner, told Business Insider.
A search on YouTube for the keyword "MMS", conducted before YouTube was made aware of the content, brought up hundreds of videos in which adherents make unsupported claims about the curative benefits of the bleach.
Some in testimonials say the bleach has cured them of serious illnesses, making claims for the curative powers of MMS that medical authorities say are completely unsubstantiated.
The top 20 MMS videos had amassed more than three million views between them. (Searches were carried out in private browser windows to prevent results being influenced by past searches.)
Some videos were running third-party ads, while others linked through to sales pages selling some posts linking to sites where the substance is for sale, usually for between $15 and $35.
Videos promoting the substance also appear in more general searches, raising the possibility that they appeared for users who had never heard of MMS, but discovered it while browsing on YouTube.
A pro-MMS video appeared within the top 30 results for "autism treatment," the top three for "autism cure," and as the top result for "malaria cure."
Several of the most prominent proponents of MMS ran their own channels on the platform.
The Genesis II church channel showed Mark Grenon, a key figure in the organisation, interviewing people who claim the substance has cured them of ailments including heart attacks,"severe brain damage" and arthritis.
One channel, JimHumbleLive, featured interviews with Humble and seminars in which he praises MMS.
In an emailed response to a request for comment from Business Insider, Grenon wrote "We don't answer FAKE NEWS organizations that lie with an agenda from the REAL owners that are just plain evil and DO NOT want to see the TRUTH get about about how BIG Pharma/Medical industry are paying the politicians and the courts to look the other way while the world is being poisoned by their Toxic DRUGS !"
Kerri Rivera, an author who advocates forced consumption of MMS for autistic children, also had a channel on the site, which includes a now-removed video in which she claimed that MMS cured her child of autism, and can do the same for others.
"It was like his soul had returned to his body for the first time in eight years," she says, and claimed that in the following months she shared MMS with other parents, leading to 38 recoveries.
She claims they are now "neurotypical children in schools, having friends and having full lives because of having used MMS."
When reached by Business Insider, Kerri Rivera said "Chlorine dioxide, like any therapeutic agent, needs to be used with care."
"There are also health warnings about many substances commonly used in medicine. If you're not aware of this, read the health warnings insert on any pharmaceutical product starting with those that are most widely prescribed."
YouTube removed the channels for Humble, Grenon, and Rivera after Business Insider inquired about them.
O'Leary said that YouTube is an increasingly important platform for those spreading MMS, especially since Facebook started closing down MMS-linked groups. Misinformation and lies from YouTube videos are regularly cited by those pushing MMS in the groups, she said.
In recent weeks the site has come under pressure for allowing anti-vaccination activists to spread messages on their platforms. Under YouTube's policies: "Content that aims to encourage dangerous or illegal activities that risk serious physical harm or death is not allowed."
In a statement to Business Insider, YouTube said:
"Misinformation is a difficult challenge and any misinformation on medical topics is especially concerning. We've taken a number of steps to address this including surfacing more authoritative content across our site for people searching for related topics on YouTube.
"However, our Community Guidelines prohibit content intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm, and we work to quickly remove flagged videos that violate these policies."
Gianluca Stringhini, Assistant Professor at Boston University's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, told Business Insider in an email that it was likely the videos were being pushed to a wider audience through the site's algorithms before their removal.
He said: "I would expect that the YouTube recommendation algorithm would show many of these videos to users who viewed tangentially related ones — from my experience the recommendation algorithm tends to suggest more 'extreme' videos to users, nudging them to go down a rabbit hole."
Have you been affected by MMS, or do you know someone who has? Got a tip or a story to share?Contact this reporter by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter direct message @Finneganporter.