Investigations indicate the Reedley laboratory appears to be connected with China.
A warehouse in Fresno County, California has been the site of a massive remediation project and investigation after it was discovered to be an illegal, unlicensed laboratory full of lab mice, infectious agent samples, medical waste, and hazardous materials.
The Fresno County Public Health Department has been “evaluating and assessing the activities of an unlicensed laboratory” in Reedley, the health department’s assistant director, Joe Prado, said in a statement Thursday. All of the biological agents were destroyed by July 7 following a legal abatement process by the agency.
“The evaluation required coordination and collaboration with multiple federal and state agencies to determine and classify biological and chemical contents onsite, in addition to assessing jurisdictional authority under this unique situation,” Prado said.
According to court documents, city officials inspected the location at 850 I St. on March 3 for building violations and found various chemicals being stored. On March 16, an inspection by county public health officials allegedly turned up medical devices thought to have been developed on-site, such as Covid and pregnancy tests.
“Certain rooms of the warehouse were found to contain several vessels of liquid and various apparatus,” court documents said. “Fresno County Public Health staff also observed blood, tissue and other bodily fluid samples and serums; and thousands of vials of unlabeled fluids and suspected biological material.”
According to documents filed in Fresno Superior Court, in early fall of 2022, Nevada-based Prestige Biotech, Inc. moved equipment into the warehouse after its facility in Fresno was destroyed in a fire. There were over 20 different infectious agents that this company was working with, ostensibly for the development of diagnostic kits. The pathogens included herpes, HIV, chlamydia, coronavirus, and hepatitis.
While these investigations were being conducted, Reedley officials and FCDPH [Fresno County Department of Public Health] repeatedly made attempts to speak to representatives from Prestige.
Court documents identify Xiuquin Yao as the alleged president of Prestige. Neither Reedley nor FCDPH was able to obtain from Yao any substantive information regarding Prestige or why infectious agents and mice were being stored at 850 I Street other than to say that the company was developing diagnostic testing kits.
…Court documents include copies of an email exchange [FCDPH Assistant Director Joe] Prado conducted with David He, who identified himself as a representative of Prestige, beginning May 31 and continuing through June 13. Over the course of numerous emails, Prado repeatedly asks He to provide documentation regarding licensed medical waste disposal, Prestige’s reasons for storing infectious agents and how the company will respond to the biological abatement orders handed down by FCDPH.
“They (Prestige) completely avoided the questions,” Prado said. “This individual (He) was either unaware or was intentionally trying to mislead us.”
In what can best be described as a shell game, He initially discounted the veracity of the reports that Prestige was storing infectious agents at 850 I Street. Over the course of the email exchange, He asked for a list of the agents, which Prado submitted each time He requested it. He continued to press Prado to contact Dimensions, a company He claimed was a licensed medical waste hauler. Prado requested documentation that Dimensions was licensed; He abjured.
As of this writing, no one from Prestige has taken responsibility for the contents of the lab.
“No one has come forward from these companies (Prestige, UMI) to say they own these chemicals and biologicals,” Luchini said.
Company officials indicated that Prestige BioTech moved assets belonging to a defunct company, Universal Meditech Inc., to the Reedley warehouse. Investigations revealed the laboratory appears to be connected with China.
Officials were unable to get any California-based address for either company except for the previous Fresno location from which UMI had been evicted.
“The other addresses provided for identified authorized agents were either empty offices or addresses in China that could not be verified,” court documents said.
In response, Calfornia’s politicians are gearing up to try to deal with the situation with regulations that likely will not prevent this situation from arising again, as it appears the proprietors of the laboratory were not inclined to follow strict California guidelines for medical waste management in the first place.
State Assemblymember Devon Mathis said Friday he looks to work with Democrats and Republicans in the legislature to address the discovery of the illegal medical lab.
Mathis said in a news release the discovery left concerning questions over the unreported use of dangerous chemicals.
More broadly, Mathis said he hopes to craft legislation to equip local agencies with tools to ensure businesses are operating legally and ethically.
From the reports, it appears the waste was placed in common trash, which is now at the local landfill. I suspect the people of Fresno, as well as many across the state and nation, have questions about how a China-connected company was working with so many infectious agents in such an unsafe manner.
Officials indicate all the chemicals and biological substances have been removed and properly disposed. The over 1,000 mice at the facility have been humanely euthanized.DONATE
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