A central California town is reeling after a nondescript warehouse turned out to be an illegal laboratory with deadly pathogens, including coronavirus, HIV and malaria.
If not for an errant hose protruding from the back of the warehouse last spring, city officials would not have known that a shady biotech company with ties to China had set up shop there, filling it with industrial freezers, hundreds of vials of viruses and about 1,000 dead and dying laboratory mice.
Government investigators also found Covid diagnostic and pregnancy tests at the underground testing facility they believed was being developed there, in addition to at least 20 stored infectious agents, including coronaviruses, HIV, hepatitis and herpes.
The lab was run by a company called Prestige Biotech not licensed to do business in California, whose president, Xiuquin Yao, said he was a successor to the now-defunct company Universal Meditech Inc. But the officials sent to addresses linked to the companies appeared in empty office buildings. or addresses in China that could not be verified.
The months-long investigation in early July resulted in the proper disposal of all hazardous chemicals and substances, labeled and unlabeled, and while officials noted that the origins of the lab are being investigated, they say the people in the surroundings are safe. .
The nondescript warehouse was located on I Street in Reedley, California. He was identified by a passing code enforcement officer when he saw a garden hose placed where he should not have been.
A search warrant issued less than three weeks later revealed hundreds of vials of mislabeled chemicals and biohazards, including what ended up being stored coronaviruses, herpes viruses, hepatitis and malaria, plus around 1,000 dead or dying laboratory mice.
The black market-like lab operating in the sleepy town of Reedley, California, came to official attention in early March when a code enforcement officer driving down the street noticed a garden hose sticking out of a building where it shouldn’t have been. state.
This stroke of luck set in motion a combined state, local and federal investigation, one Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba had never seen before.
Ms. Zieba saying: ‘This is an unusual situation. I have been in government for 25 years. I’ve never seen anything like this.
A warrant issued shortly after the official found the code violation allowed members of the government to search the nondescript building, where they were shocked by what they found.
In one room there were about 1000 inhumanely stored white laboratory mice, about 200 of which were already dead. According to Fresno County Department of Public Health Deputy Director Joe Prado, the lab was running tests on the mice that would help develop the covid test kits found at the site.
Mr Prado said: ‘They were using laboratory mice to see if the Covid test kits were actually testing for Covid or not. So that was the purpose of the lab mice at the site.’
Prado did not add if any of those covid tests had been given out or sold to the public.
They also found a wide range of vials containing biomaterials, including blood and tissue, as well as many other unlabeled chemicals, some of which contained the coronavirus, as well as pathogenic bacteria and viruses, including HIV, Chlamydia, E. coli and strep. pneumonia, hepatitis B and C, herpes 1 and 5, rubella and malaria.
Court documents showed that chemicals, laboratory devices and furniture were improperly stored in the unassuming warehouse.
The black market lab was not licensed to operate there, and while the dangerous chemicals have been properly disposed of, officials have yet to release details about who was in charge of the lab, who erected it, and what its purpose was.
Mr Prado added: ‘Here at the public health department we operate our own laboratory so we are very well versed in legal requirements and how to maintain and control an infectious agent. And there was a total absence of those controls in the warehouse.’
In addition to finding nearly 1,000 dead or distressed laboratory mice, court documents revealed investigators also found refrigerators and freezers filled with blood and containers labeled “serum or plasma.”
Officials were tasked with determining the provenance of the mystery lab, which turned out to be run by Las Vegas-registered Prestige BioTech.
city officers identified Xiuquin Yao as company presidentwho said Prestige BioTech shifted operations to the Reedley warehouse previously run by a now-defunct company called Universal Meditech Inc. Prestige was identified as the successor to UMI, according to court documents.
But when officials were tasked with searching for locations linked to either company, they turned up in abandoned offices or found linked addresses in China that they couldn’t verify.
City officials maintain that those operating under the name Prestige BioTech have provided no information, though the investigation is ongoing and may yield more answers in the future.
Ms Zieba said: ‘There are no more biologics. There are no more mice, but you will still see us reduce 30 freezers and refrigerators, medical equipment and all kinds of furniture in there. You will still see some non-hazardous activity at this point.
“Some of our federal partners still have active investigations. I can only speak on the building side.”