EPA cleanup at illegal Reedley lab to finish sooner than expected

Kate Nemarich Image
Thursday, January 18, 2024
EPA clean up at illegal Reedley lab to finish sooner than expected
EPA crews will spend far less time cleaning up the illegal Reedley lab than they planned for.

REEDLEY, Calif. (KFSN) -- EPA crews will spend far less time cleaning up the illegal Reedley lab than they planned for.

The team arrived on Monday to begin clearing out hazardous materials and continued that work Wednesday.

Moving trucks sat in front of the former illegal bio lab as teams packed them with chemicals from inside that needed to be removed and destroyed.

Most of the work is being done on the right side of the building, where, in December 2022, authorities found blood samples, nearly a thousand mice, and misbranded medical devices inside the building.

According to City Manager Nicole Zieba, there have been no surprises for the EPA team, so the work is going quicker than expected.

"All of the lab chemicals that the EPA has found have been very customary, standard lab chemicals, reagents, things of that nature," said Zieba. "Nothing hazardous, nothing that they would be alerted to as being unusual, and so that's helped the clean up go a lot faster than they expected."

The EPA had planned on spending two weeks on site but is now scheduled to complete its portion of the clean-up on Thursday.

However, there is still the matter of medical devices that must be dealt with.

Reedley code enforcement officer Jesalyn Harper, who discovered the illegal lab, said those devices would be destroyed on-site, but there are more steps to be taken by the Attorney General before that can be done.

"They're stating that these devices are not fit to be out for consumer use, so they are not allowed to be removed from the facility," said Harper. "They have to remain here until an officer from the FDB can come and sign off, verifying that they witnessed them being destroyed."

Harper hopes the state Food and Drug Branch can witness that destruction next month. After that, the city will work with the property owner to either get the building up to code or demolish it.

Meanwhile, the man accused of operating the lab, David He, also known as Jei Bei Zhu, is facing federal charges.

The government alleges that He "adulterated and misbranded" medical devices and that he lied to federal investigators.

His lawyer, Tony Capozzi, said they have not been able to access the lab and that he would have liked to go inside the warehouse with federal investigators this week.

He's calling the operation an illegal seizure and destruction of evidence.

"Our position was the evidence presented to the court was not enough to show that there was any violations for them to go in and destroy the evidence, take the equipment, and close down the lab," said Capozzi.

Capozzi said they filed claims to sue against the City of Reedley and the County of Fresno in the next couple of months.

He was due to appear in court on Wednesday, but that was delayed until January 24 to provide more time for his legal team to review evidence and for the government to provide more evidence.

Capozzi hopes to set the case for a jury trial date at that time.

Reedley city leaders didn't want to comment on the status of the trial and haven't been attending hearings in case they need to testify.

They hope this case will lead to national laws and regulations that prevent labs like this one from appearing in other cities across the nation.

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