Two mothers are working together to stop parents who believe they can “cure” their children’s autism with dangerous chemicals.
Melissa Eaton, who lives in North Carolina, and Amanda Seigler, who lives in Florida, both stumbled upon groups of people who believe chlorine dioxide, a chemical that's used for bleaching, can treat autism while researching the condition after their own children were diagnosed with it.
Eaton, 39 and Seigler, 38, both decided to begin going undercover, posing as desperate parents with a child who has autism. Once inside the groups, however, the pair then observe and report cases of child abuse.
“I created my own fake profile to help find these people,” Eaton said. “I’ve read all sorts of disturbing posts. It affects me greatly because autism is a neurological difference. Parents are just being really misguided.”
One in 59 children in the U.S. have autism.
“Autism is a developmental disorder that probably starts in utero or certainly in early infancy,” Dr. Benard Dreyer, professor of pediatrics at the New York University School of Medicine, told InsideEdition.com.
Eaton, whose 9-year-old son has autism, said she was shocked when she saw the posts inside the groups. She said parents who participate often think autism has numerous causes, from vaccines to parasites, and believe chlorine dioxide will cleanse their children’s bodies.
It's believed the false idea was born when Chicago real estate agent Kerri Rivera released the book “Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism,” in which she promotes the use of the chemical. She claims to have cured more than 500 children using the substance.
In an email to NBC News, Rivera reportedly defended chlorine dioxide as a cure for autism, though in 2015, she agreed not to market or sell her products in Illinois after pressure from the state’s attorney general’s office.
Amazon banned Rivera’s book earlier this year. YouTube has also deleted several of Rivera’s videos that mention chlorine dioxide.
Parents in the groups often discuss giving their children several doses of chlorine dioxide in disturbing detail, according to Eaton.
“I was completely appalled people were putting chloride dioxide in water to have their kids drink it and giving their kids enemas,” Seigler told InsideEdition.com. “I saw pictures of the lining of kids' intestines being shared because they were being given bleach enema. They thought the lining was a parasite. I thought, ‘These people have to be stopped.’”
And that’s when Seigler began reporting them.
Seigler said she, Eaton and another woman named Emma Dalmayne, who lives in the U.K. and encouraged Seigler and Eaton to begin reporting the cases, have reported at least 100 cases of child abuse.
Child Protective Services doesn’t provide much information after they do, however, Seigler said.
The moms said they’ve also notified the Department of Justice and the Food and Drug Administration about the groups. Facebook has shut down some of these groups as part of the effort to stop anti-vaccine propaganda, but they are constantly popping back up, according to the women.
“My daughter has been refusing doses with all her might,” one mom wrote in a group about her attempt to give her daughter chloride dioxide.
Other posts, provided to InsideEdition.com by Eaton, showed parents asking about the proper dosage of the chemical compound for their children. Doctors maintain the compound does nothing for autism.
“Giving your child something dangerous when there is no evidence that it will do anything to their autism is harmful to the child,” Dreyer said. “It is child abuse. In addition to hurting them, it’s potentially causing long-term damage.”
Eaton said she doesn’t enjoy scouring these groups but it’s something she can’t give up doing.
“I don’t want to do it. I wish the authorities were doing it,” Eaton said. “Once you have seen this, and you have seen these parents talk about their screaming children, you can’t not do something.”
It is illegal to sell chlorine dioxide as a cure under state and federal consumer protection laws; however, anyone can buy sodium chlorite and hydrochloric acid separately and combine them to make the substance.
Poison control centers have managed 2,500 cases involving chloride dioxide and children under the age of 12 in the past five years, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
“Just breathing it in can damage your eyes, skin, and lungs,” Dreyer said. “Giving your kids this can burn their insides, whether it’s an enema or to drink it.”
The moms both say they won’t stop reporting people in these groups and doing what they can to help.
“If we don’t report them, nobody will, and these children and vulnerable adults will continue being abused and being poisoned,” Seigler said.