Peddlers of industrial bleach who urge Americans to drink the fluid as a “miracle cure” for cancer, HIV/Aids and other diseases have begun touting the product illegally as a treatment for the latest variants of Covid-19.

Chlorine dioxide, a powerful bleaching agent used in textile and paper manufacturing, is being compounded and sold out of a makeshift laboratory in Miami, Florida. The company, Oclo Nanotechnology Science, is playing on fears of the new strain of the coronavirus discovered in the UK, which is now spreading rapidly and widely through the US.

The UK variant, B117, is thought to be more transmissible and deadly than the initial form of the virus.

The Miami company is invoking B117 to drive up sales of its bleach products, which the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns are potentially dangerous and can be life-threatening. The front page of Oclo’s website is dominated by a photograph of vials of its chlorine dioxide product billed as an “antiviral” treatment.

The image is superimposed with the words: “B117 … new variant of coronavirus, the most contagious and dangerous in the United States. Rescuing chlorine dioxide and its great curative potential against pathogens.”

The appearance of a new marketing push out of Miami by peddlers of the bleach “cure”, often referred to as “miracle mineral solution”, or MMS, signals the FDA’s uphill struggle in trying to control the potentially lethal trade. Since the start of the pandemic, the federal agency has been clamping down on fraudulent products which claim to treat or cure Covid-19.

It has also been using its enforcement muscle to move against chlorine dioxide dealers. Last August, the FDA arrested Mark Grenon and his four sons, who were among the most prominent “miracle” bleach peddlers in the US.

Members of the Grenon family claimed to be “bishops” of the Florida-based Genesis II “church” that sold bleach under the guise that it was a “sacrament”. They remain in jails in Miami and Colombia awaiting extradition to the US facing charges of conspiracy to defraud the US and to introduce a misbranded drug into interstate commerce.

Having taken down Genesis II, the FDA is now facing outcrops of new MMS dealers. Oclo is run by a former Cuban living in Hallandale Beach, north of Miami.

Ricardo Garcia describes himself as a “research and development scientist” trained in chemistry at the University of Havana, though he also identifies as a real estate agent. Most of his customers in the US are Latino Americans.

He is also known to be offering to transport bleach in enema form to Europe for use on autistic children, at a cost of $680 per liter plus shipping.

In text messages between Garcia and an autism advocate based in Europe, he said that he was distributing the vials mainly in “local areas in the USA”. He added: “We have been censored several times on social media but are still producing to save lives.”

Despite Garcia’s protestations, his main trading route still appears to be through social media sites. He promotes his toxic products on Facebook, Amazon and eBay.

He clearly has some success selling through Amazon. His “immune booster against pathogens”, costing $49.99, is a bestseller ranked 105 in the “sports nutrition and hydration products” category.

The Guardian asked Garcia why he was selling bleach illegally as a treatment for the B117 strain of Covid and other diseases. He gave the reply: “We are really sorry for the loss of your loved one. Thank you for publishing the latest scientific advances with chlorine dioxide in the treatment of Covid-19. We have a great interest in saving lives – you too, right?”

The Guardian also contacted the three social media giants to ask them why they were hosting a potentially life-threatening fraudulent “cure” on their platforms. Within hours eBay responded by blocking the Oclo page.

An eBay spokesperson said: “Our first priority is to ensure the safety of our employees and customers around the world. We are taking significant measures to block or quickly remove items on our marketplace that make false health claims, including listings that promote chlorine dioxide as a cure for Covid.”

Amazon was more ambivalent. It said that third-party sellers were “independent businesses” required to follow all applicable laws and regulations.

“Those who violate our policies are subject to action including potential removal of their account,” Amazon said. It left the Oclo page up, however.

Facebook did not reply.

Fiona O’Leary, a campaigner against pseudoscience, said she was concerned about Garcia because unlike other bleach peddlers he was a practicing scientist. “It’s very worrying to me because he’s a professional, and I’ve never seen a scientist make this product before. He has more knowledge on the chemicals and he’s going to be trusted more.”

Garcia claims to follow the protocols of Andreas Kalcker, one of the leading figures in the bleach “cure” movement. Kalcker, a German citizen who lives in Switzerland, is author of an influential book, Forbidden Health.

He is reported to be under criminal investigation in Argentina following the deaths of a five-year-old boy and a man aged 50 who both drank chlorine dioxide.

On his website, Garcia claims that his product treats autism – a common and especially abusive application of bleach. He quotes a parent who says that their experience of chlorine dioxide was “truly miraculous. Our five-year-old son with autism has been able to make an extraordinary recovery.”

Garcia also quotes a New York resident who says his grandfather almost died from Covid but recovered after drinking the bleach.

His site encourages consumers to buy chlorine dioxide and give it to their dogs as well as marketing the fluid as a treatment for vaginal infections in women. “Vaginal washing with a solution of chlorine dioxide allows the treatment of some vaginal and other sexually transmitted diseases,” it claims.

This content first appear on the guardian

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