Wednesday, August 18, 2010

BLEACH: Chemistry v English (or "More Mineral Miracle Solution")

The story of 15-year-old Rhys Morgan's experience on a forum when he posted an FDA press release urging people to stop using Jim Humble's Miracle Mineral Solution is well documented - amongst others there is Rhys' own blog of course, and LizDitz provides a timeline history. The interview I did with Rhys for The Pod Delusion, which sets out the story and some of the human interest can be found here.

My minor involvement started fairly early on in media terms, but very late in Twitter terms! I had seen the hastag #bleachgate on Twitter and also references to 'MMS' and 'drinking bleach'.

As a chemist by trade who has (hopefully) gained some knowledge over the years, it sounded to me like someone was channelling the People's Medical Journal, aka The Daily Mail. Would people *really* be told to drink bleach for ailments, and worse still, actually do it?

After a bit of Googling, the story became clear, and indeed some hype and hyperbole had crept into what was otherwise a fascinating story.

I wanted to get a few thoughts (and maybe some chemistry....) into a blogpost to try and put things into perspective. This is not meant to piss on anyone's parade, but just to hopefully give some explanation as to how a story like this can evolve, and how it can suffer from distortion in the hands of the 'skeptic community' (ugh) just like any media outlet.

Firstly, a bit of chemistry and nomenclature (chemical names).

Like all bulk industrial chemicals, it has to start somewhere easy and reletavily abundant, in this case salt. Sodium Chloride (NaCl) is our friend - table salt, sea salt, rock salt, whatever is prety much all salt and necessary for us to live.

The salt is electrolysed to form Sodium Chlorate (NaClO3), which is a tremendously good weedkiller. 'Good' in this case meaning 'indiscriminate and powerful'. It was banned in EU in 2009, as its risk to humans outweighs its usefulness as a weedkiller, but it is still used extensively outside the EU due to its low cost.

To make sodium chlorite (NaClO2 or Miracle Mineral Solution as it is also called), Sodium Chlorate is reduced in a strong acid using a reducing agent (e.g. sulphur dioxide) to form Chlorine Dioxide (ClO2). ClO2 is explosive in >10% in air and difficult to transport, and so it is stablised making the solution alkaline and reducing the ClO2 with hydrogen peroxide to make Sodium Chlorite.

So there is the manufacturing process - sodium chloride -> sodium chlorate -> chlorine dioxide -> sodium chlorite.
The four products are very similar in structure, yet have completely different characteristics ranging from being necessary for life to being very toxic.

The websites selling MMS weren't advocating ingesting MMS (Sodium Chlorite). They were directing the user to mix it 1:1 with an acid (usually citric acid or similar) to form Chlorine Dioxide (ClO2). (Acidification to produce ClO2 is the standard industry practice for this product when it is used in cooling towers and industrial water systems as it is the ClO2 that is effective against slimes, moulds and bacteria living in the water supply, but as stated above, transport of ClO2 is difficult and dangerous, so Sodium Chlorite is transported to the site and acidified later).

So what about bleach? Bleach (as in household bleach for toilets) is Sodium Hypochlorite (NaOCl) made from the electrolysis of chlorine in brine. As shown above, these chemicals can look and sound similar, but have completely different characteristics. So when people use #bleachgate, they are (in my view, uninformedly) talking about Household Bleach (NaOCl) and not MMS, (NaClO2). Part of this is undoubtedly part of the Twitter hashtag thing of being able to encapsulate a story in as few precious characters as possible, but IMHO, the end result was a tabloid affair, that I would have railed against had it been in any of the main stream media outlets.

So where did the 'bleach' meme come from? The FDA press release is the answer - it describes the product as "an industrial bleach" and "a potent bleach used for stripping textiles". (I have no idea what stripping textiles is). The FDA is correct is saying it is *a* bleach, but that's not the same as saying it is 'bleach', because bleach already means something in people's minds and they use it as a pretty potent chemical for cleaning loos. For instance, everyone knows that lemon juice can bleach your hair - go out in the sun with lemon juice in your hair and it will bleach. It is *a* bleach - I should be able to drink some quite happily without being accused of 'drinking bleach'.

And what about the 'drinking' part? The websites advocate 'a few drops' - Jim Humble's own website states:
Begin with taking one drop of MMS each hour for at least 10 hours a day. The drop, of course, must be activated with 5 drops of lemon juice or 10% citric acid. You wait 3 minutes and then add 1/3 glass of water or juice and drink that. Do this every hour for 10 hours straight each day

So clearly 'drinking bleach' is not what is being advocated and not what Jim Humble (the supposed MMS guru) has divined - because it is neither being drunk nor is it bleach.

What about the concentration of ClO2 in the final dose? How does that compare with FDA guidelines? Time is not allowing me to do this as accurately as I'd like, so there may be mistakes in here (please correct them if you spot them).

MMS is sold as a 28% solution - I'm going to assume this is by weight, i.e. 28 g in 100 g of solution, I'm also going to assume the density of the solution = 1 g/cm3.

The users are told to use citric acid (in excess, so the amount doesn't matter) to produce the ClO2 – citric acid is a strong enough acid to do this. 28 g of NaClO2 in 100 ml is 0.25 mol (RMM=110), which means there is 2.5 mmol in 1cm3. Assume 20 drops in 1 cm3 (I think this is standard), which means each time you take the MMS you are getting 0.125 mmol of NaClO2 and hence the same of ClO2. This is then added to 1/3 glass of water or juice (I'm assuming that's 100ml, so you have a solution of 0.125 mmol of ClO2 in 100 ml, or 4.69 mg in 100 ml, or indeed, 46.9 mg/l. Compare this with the FDA limit of 0.8 mg/l and you'll see that Jim Humble is recommending about 60 times the FDA limit, and that this is to be taken every hour for 10 hours.

"The dose maketh the poison" as someone wise and important pointed out. Despite the fact that most people reading this blog have ingested ClO2 at some point (swimming pools, drinking water etc) it is still a completely crazy situation where someone is suggesting taking ClO2 in the form prescribed by Jim Humble. This is out and out quackery at its highest level - a huge amount of risk and absolutely no reward possible.

The story of Rhys' treatment on the Crohn's Forum website is indicative how alt-med react when presented with scientific facts, and that this is a product which the ASA, MHRA, and Trading Standards should all be made aware of - I can't really imagine it being banned, but at least controlled somehow and the people making the nonsense claims given a penalty.

So in my view, the story is fascinating, from lots of angles, but most importantly the complaints are valid and worthwhile, even if somewhere along the way, the Twitterati hyped the story to the point where it might have been quite at home in the Daily Mail.



  1. I suppose you're right in that it got a bit hyped up, but I think that relates to something I was reading about yesterday; the genuine concern people have for those getting swindled by these conmen.

    Upon discovering that people are being advised to drink such chemicals when they can already barely swallow, that '1-2 hours of diarrhoea is a really good sign' with the 'treatment' and other such shocking things, it's easy to get carried away.

    (See to see that not only does Humble advocate drinking it, but also swallowing it in pill form, getting it by IV and as I transcribed in my blog, rubbing it into your skin or teeth mixed with DMSO).

    I guess the Twitter hashtag is indeed like the tabloid headline; it's there to get people's attention and make a story recognisable and memorable.

    Difference being, we hope to present a more factually accurate account in the bulk of the story.

  2. Not sure why you thought this post might "piss on someone's parade".

    Excellent post. Good to read the science behind the story, and to see the dosage calculations (I'm not going to dig out my chemistry books to check them though!)

  3. Thanks for the more detailed update. I was also concerned about the "drinking bleach" idea, because as described on the Pod Delusion (and again, though less effectively, on SGU), the substance described didn't sound to me like household bleach. So it's good to see a followup.

  4. I think Rhys was always clear about the FDA's statement that the instructions for making up MMS mean it is effectively an industrial-grade bleach; not household!

    Though yes, this may have got lost in the storm and certainly when most people hear 'bleach' they'll think of plastic bottles with squirty nozzles.

    I think this post does well to address that, though, highlighting that (as with most chemicals) there are different types of bleach with different effects depending on concentration and composition.

  5. Thanks for your comments everyone.

    Kash - there can be in some circles blogposts that get written to be contrary and reactionary to a current buzz. I didn't want this blogpost to be seen as one of those, more to be an assistance to help people get the facts right.

    AndrewGould - I have taken from your statement that our Pod Delusion was better than SGU :) Without being big-headed, I thought so too (biased, moi?), and wrote a note to SGU saying they weren't critical enough of the story, with the result that the real story got muddled in the OH NOES TEH BLEACHEZ part of it.


  6. Far be it for me to criticise SGU :) but yeah, I think they focused too much on the "OMG BLEACH!!!" aspect...

  7. I really hate to be the boring pedant, but sodium chlorite is NaClO2 and sodium chlorate is NaClO3, not NaOCl2 and NaOCl3. It helps if we get these things right otherwise the people we criticise will say we don't know what we are talking about.

    Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but all of the detailed warnings I've seen about MMS have described it as an industrial bleach, not household bleach. If anything this would/should give an impression (rightly, I think) of something even more inadvisable to take as a medicine.

  8. Oh Lordy, Trinoc - I am embarrassed beyond recognition.

    I will change them immediately.


  9. Phew.

    Trinoc - the hashtag #bleachgate didn't mention 'industrial' which was kind of the point of the thing.

    I appreciate it is partially a semantics issue about what people mean by 'bleach'


  10. Thanks for doing the science part of this and working out exactly how much chlorine dioxide is being ingested versus what is used to purify water.

    I had wanted to do that exact calculation and comparison the other night, but realised I was ill-equipped having forgotten how to tackle such problems :(

  11. Dr*T - OK, #bleachgate is like a newspaper headline .. short and snappy to grab the attention. Somehow #industrialbleachgate would not work quite as well. I suppose we could also point out that there is no gate involved!

    I think it got the point over very well. The word "bleach" suggests to most people something smelling of chlorine which you absolutely would not want to get anywhere near your throat or stomach, and that is exactly what MMS is. So, "bleach" is not only technically accurate (though different from Domestos) but also gives the correct impression (I nearly wrote "gut reaction"!) to a lay reader.

  12. "The word "bleach" suggests to most people something smelling of chlorine which you absolutely would not want to get anywhere near your throat or stomach, and that is exactly what MMS is."

    Like lemon juice? Also, don't confuse MMS and ClO2 - MMS (sodium chlorite) is used legitimately in mouthwash, so your point above is incorrect.

    Even ClO2 is fine to ingest, providing it is a low concentration!

  13. I have used CLO2 for almost 30 years daily. Everyone close to me, my family has used it to never have needed a drug or antibiotic once ever since. I had couple of months left to live before deciding to stop all the drugs and look at alternatives. CD was one that proved to be the single most effective part of the process.

    Consistent use of small amounts has helped millions, it can't be denied. I have watched dozens of friends die of serious illnesses sticking with drugs and surgeries as their therapy, including HIV. A few that used "other" means are still here today, like me. To negate it is you choice, to take drugs for health reasons is great, they kill hundreds of thousands of people a year and have proven side effects now forced to be disclosed.. A decade of deaths with Avandia and finally the FDA releases a "warning". But MMS is a real threat. A warning about taking high doses would be a very reasonable action.

    Beyond that, it is simply limiting people's health choices. On the "bleach" issue, well done. Your lemon reference a good one.

    Bleach is a verb, not a substance but an *_action _*of oxidation.

    Chlor-ox is a bleaching agent. So is dioxychloride a bleaching agent, but a different formula.
    One is a hypochlorite, the other is a hypochoride. The primary effect of both is the oxygen, not the secondary chloride, chlorite nor chlorate by products.

    We are not talking about Clo2, but Sodium Chloride nascently bonded to oxygen. Nascent means "loosely bonded" so the oxygen can be easily liberated.

    Dioxychloride breaks down into NaCl, salt which is then broken down into the mineral Na and Cl is used to make HCL, and other chlorides for the cerebral spinal fluid, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, '
    free oxygen as O1 and O2.

    The oxygen raises the levels of O2 in the blood, thus attracting white blood cells which take it up and use it in the production of H2O2 to kill bacteria. Any free radical O1 coming in contact with a pathogen will attach to it and tear a hole in the bacteria's membrane, either killing it or making susceptible to the WBC.

    So the correct response is that DC3 is not Bleach, but a bleaching agent, but a different formula than commercial Bleach (noun).

    Jim Humble may not be a perfect human being, he may not have everything right about the use of MMS,/CLO2 but I would take it over any drug or antibiotic in existence if interested in helping the body heal itself is the desired result.

    Oh yes, I have had one cavity in 30 years, my family none. Not bad for a dead guy.

    Thanks for the space to share.

  14. Well, that was predictable.

    So, Anonymous - you're happy with drinking an industrial bleaching agent, that the FDA has recommended not be ingested under any circumstances? What part of "confirmation bias" do you not understand?

  15. Sorry for the duplicate posts, I kept getting an error saying it was too large so kept trying.

  16. Anonymous - did you think 'Hmm it seems to think my comment is too big, maybe I should shorten it?'

    Either way, site rules - no serious response to people who comment anonymously.


  17. I think you're right that #bleachgate is basically a tabloid headline and as such it makes up for in snappiness what it lacks in strict accuracy -

    But it does get across the basic message that people are being asked to drink a cleaning product (an industrial one no less), in relatively high doses, and the "-gate" part is because it's completely pointless.

  18. As the article pointed out, Chlorine dioxide is an industrial bleach (it is used to bleach paper, I believe), but it is also used as an industrial sterilizing agent. At the proper concentrations, this stuff will kill anything.

  19. Oh, MAN, I'd believe ANYTHING just as long as there were not a shred of evidence for it. Then this kid comes along and produces some, so I don't know WHAT to think now.

  20. The well, (a.k.a. the gut of anon) having been cleaned up with some industrial bleaching agent, needed to be re-poisoned with unfair twitter hash tags.

    Hey, thx for the explanation, Dr T. I feel smarter :)

  21. Hello to everyone who has come via Pharyngula :)

    Thanks for stopping by. Have a look round, feedback (+ve and -ve) always welcomed.



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