It was also documented that the rodents were inhumanely housed in the facility. The city then took possession of the animals in April, euthanizing 773 of them while more than 175 were found dead. (Related: Mysterious lab discovered in Fresno, Calif., "at least 20 potentially infectious agents" detected along with mice engineered to spread pandemics.)
Prestige, the company allegedly running the lab, is based out of Nevada and is the successor to Universal Meditech, Inc (UMI).
The City code enforcement stumbled upon the building at 850 I St. in Reedly in December 2022, when they discovered a garden hose running up into the building through a hole in the wall. On March 3, they obtained a warrant to inspect the property, and in April, the Fresno County public health department issued an inspection order for the illegal bio facility.
Apart from the lab rats, inspectors also found a room used to make COVID-19 tests and pregnancy tests as well as 35-plus freezers and refrigeration units that contained "thousands of bodily fluids, serums, tissues, and other medical items."
The Mid Valley Times reported: "According to Assistant Director of Fresno County Public Health Humero Prado's declaration, which was filed in superior court, investigators discovered that one room of the warehouse was used to produce COVID-19 and pregnancy tests. In other rooms, investigators found blood, tissue, and other bodily fluid samples. They also found thousands of vials that contained unlabeled fluids." As per the court documents, a total of 48 containers – with approximately 44 gallons per container – full of biologics and medical waste were removed a day after the inspection. Another 31 were taken out the next day.
Zieba said 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," she added.
Meanwhile, David He, who is another Prestige representative, avoided inquiries on accountability and ownership of the company. He also dodged questions about whether or not they were properly disposing of the hundreds of dead mice. The firm did not even confirm if the biologics contained in the lab were theirs.
City Manager Nicole Zieba disclosed that the biotech company was operating 35 freezers and refrigeration devices without anyone questioning the electrical draw that would be required for a building that "was supposed to be vacant." On July 5, the team entered the building and saw that the power to the freezers "was lost" but the biological samples were still frozen.
From May 2 to 4, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Division of Select Agents and Toxins inspected the laboratory inside the "unoccupied" building. The documents confirmed that CDC found potentially infectious agents at the location, including bacterial and viral agents: chlamydia, E. Coli, streptococcus pneumonia, hepatitis B and C, herpes 1 and 5, and rubella. The agency also found samples of malaria, coronavirus, and HIV.
According to Prado, the local public health department has been "evaluating and assessing the activities of the unlicensed laboratory." He said that 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," he said.
Local officials spoke with Xiuquin Yao, who was identified as the company president, through emails included in the court documents. Yao said that Prestige moved assets belonging to the defunct company UMI to the said warehouse. 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.
NBC News reported that Prestige 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 as of Thursday, July 27. Also, according to Prado, court documents indicate that the biotech company failed to provide any licensing or permit that allows experimentation or other laboratory activity.
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