NBC News has a lengthy report out on Laurel Austin, a photographer in Lenexa, Kansas. Her son Joshua is 28 years old and high-functioning compared to his brother Jeremy, 27, who is nonverbal and prone to bouts of anger in which he bites his arm. For about a year, Austin has been dosing both men with a chlorine dioxide solution the FDA says amounts to industrial bleach and posting videos of the “treatments” to YouTube.
Unsurprisingly, Austin got the idea to feed bleach to her kids from disreputable corners of the internet. Chlorine dioxide was first promoted as a miracle cure by Jim Humble, a former Scientologist, about 20 years ago.
But it was Kerri Rivera, a former real estate agent, who first claimed that it was an effective treatment for autism. Rivera turned her quackery into a business, with a book, supplement line, and online consulting business. She even has a clinic in Mexico.
But while Rivera claims without evidence to have cured over 500 kids, medical experts say that it’s actually extremely dangerous to ingest chlorine dioxide. It can damage the digestive system and red blood cells, potentially leading to kidney failure.
Since 2014, 2,123 cases of chlorine dioxide poisoning led to serious side effects. Eight people have died in that time.
Under public pressure, Facebook and YouTube have shut down pages peddling bleach as a cure, but new ones quickly pop up in their place. When parents like Austin, eager to find something that will help their kids, stumble across this content it’s easy for them to be seduced by the promise of a real cure.
Austin, whose online presence suggests she also believes flat-earth and anti-vax conspiracies, also seems to be particularly vulnerable to misinformation.
But even with video evidence and Austin admitting she makes her sons drink poison, the police department and Kansas Adult Protective Services have refused to take action. The cops say there’s not enough evidence that it’s dangerous, and a social worker with KAPS said the situation wasn’t serious enough to warrant action.
Two women who infiltrate these online groups and report parents who admit to dosing their kids with chlorine dioxide have faced similar intransigence from local and federal authorities. It’s honestly baffling to try and figure out why, but until tech companies and law enforcement get a handle on the situation more kids like Austin’s sons will be poisoned by their desperate parents.