1 August 2023 | 16:19
California officials were thrown out when a routine snake inspection revealed an illegal medical lab filled with infectious agents, hundreds of dead mice and other dangerous materials operating inside a warehouse.
The City of Reedley’s code enforcement team swooped on the lab last December, with a months-long investigation revealing that Prestige BioTech and Universal Meditech Inc. held vials of at least 20 infectious viruses, bacteria and parasites – including COVID-19, E. Coli and malaria, according to court documents filed in Superior Court in the state of California.
“There were over 800 different chemicals at the site in different bottles of different acids. Unfortunately, many of these are categorized under unknown chemicals,” Joe Prado, assistant director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health, told KSEE.
“A lot of these labels have been removed from bottles, so there was only so much testing we could do. I’ve never seen this in my 26-year career in Fresno County,” he added.
Officials also found nearly 1,000 diseased and bioengineered mice, with about 200 rodents already dead.
Investigators said they documented all the biological agents they could before destroying the hazardous materials on July 7 after emptying the warehouse. The process included killing 773 of the surviving rats.
Reedley officials made the discovery when they saw a green garden hose running through the abandoned property late last year, and when they knocked on the warehouse door, it was clear a business was operating there without a permit.
In March, health officials inspected the area and made the shocking discovery that workers there told officials they were developing COVID and pregnancy tests, according to the court documents.
The lab was operated by Prestige BioTech, a Nevada-based company that is not registered to do business in California.
Company president Xiuquin Yao told officials that Prestige operated at the site after absorbing the now-defunct Universal Meditech Inc, which was kicked out of a lab facility in Fresno.
“The other addresses listed for identified authorized agents were either empty offices or addresses in China that could not be verified,” the court documents said.
The CDC tested the infectious agents found in the lab, and along with COVID-19, E. Coli and malaria, the agency found the lab was working with HIV, hepatitis and herpes, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Some of the chemicals and infectious agents were stored in trash cans that included English and Chinese labels, according to photos of the lab released in the court documents.
Prestige BioTech is accused of failing to comply with orders, including providing plans for biological abatement and disposal of hazardous materials. A criminal investigation is underway.
The company did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.
Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld told ABC30 Questions remain Monday about what went on inside the lab as the city works to continue investigating the site before the building is demolished.
“We, the city of Fresno, will certainly do our due diligence with this situation and look at any relationship that occurred in the city with this lab or what they might try to do in the future,” Bredefeld said.
County health officials reiterated that there is currently no risk to the public as local and federal officials continue to work to clear the warehouse.