Local and federal authorities spent months investigating a warehouse in Fresno County, California, that they suspect was home to an illegal, unlicensed laboratory full of lab mice, 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.”
Hundreds of mice at the warehouse were kept in inhumane conditions, court documents said. The city took possession of the animals in April, euthanizing 773 of them; more than 175 were found dead.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested the substances and detected at least 20 potentially infectious agents, including coronavirus, HIV, hepatitis and herpes, according to a Health and Human Services letter dated June 6.
An investigation found the tenant was Prestige BioTech, a company registered in Nevada and unlicensed for business in California. City officials spoke with Xiuquin Yao, who was identified as the company president, through emails included in the court documents.
Yao told officials that Prestige BioTech moved assets belonging to a defunct company, Universal Meditech Inc., to the Reedley warehouse from Fresno after UMI went under. Prestige Biotech was a creditor to UMI and identified as its successor, according to court documents.
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.
Prestige BioTech is accused of failing to comply with orders, including providing a plan for biological abatement and disposal of the materials. Emails sent to Yao and Prestige BioTech requesting comment were not immediately answered Thursday.
Prado told NBC affiliate KSEE of Fresno that those associated with Prestige BioTech were not forthcoming with information. Court documents say they failed to provide any licensing or permit that allows experimentation or other laboratory activity.
Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba told KSEE that officials have cleared the area of hazardous materials but are still working to empty the warehouse.
“Some of our federal partners still have active investigations going. I can only speak to the building side of it,” Zieba said