Lab operating in Reedley shut down after officials found infectious agents and chemicals

Brianna Willis Image
Wednesday, August 9, 2023
Lab operating in Reedley shut down after officials found infectious agents and chemicals
A lab operating in Reedley is shut down after an investigation found it was filled with hazardous materials, chemicals, and medical waste.

REEDLEY, Calif. (KFSN) -- A lab operating in Reedley is shut down after an investigation found it was filled with hazardous materials, chemicals, and medical waste.

The facility was discovered last year after a simple violation opened the door to something authorities say was much more disturbing - a facility operating unlicensed and unpermitted.

The legal action started in March of this year when the Fresno County Department of Public Health worked with the City of Reedley to get a court-issued warrant to inspect a property in Reedley.

Through the process, health officials say they found the company, Prestige Biotech and Universal Meditech, had refrigerators filled with chemicals, human blood, illegal Covid and pregnancy tests, and just under 1,000 mice.

As of earlier this month, all of those materials have been properly disposed of by health officials.

Officials say this is something they've never seen before.

It all started back in December 2022 with a green garden hose running through a property in the City of Reedley.

"Our code enforcement officer really paying attention, driving down the street, sees something that looks out of place. Stops, knocks on the door, and lo and behold, we discover folks that are storing things, operating here at 850 I street, unlicensed, unpermitted," said Reedley City Manager, Nicole Zieba.

By March of this year, court documents show Fresno County in collaboration with the City of Reedley applied for a warrant to "inspect the property after inspectors found reasons to believe it did not meet health and safety standards."

They later applied for a warrant to abate conditions on the property that were deemed a public nuisance.

Joe Prado with the Fresno County Department of Public Health says through those orders, they found Prestige Biotech and Universal Meditech Biotech Inc., had biological agents at the facility.

"There were some laboratory mice on-site at this location. What we heard from the business owner was that they were doing some type of testing with those mice to see whether or not their Covid test kits were actually effective in detecting Covid. So, that was one example of what they shared with the purpose of the laboratory mice were being on-site," said Assistant Director with the Fresno County Department of Public Health, Joe Prado.

In addition to the 951 mice that were either dead or in distress, a state medical waste investigation shows refrigerators and freezers with blood and containers labeled as "serum or plasma," and found Prestige Biotech is not registered with the department as a medical waste generator.

Court documents also show CDC staff found at least 20 potentially infectious agents from chlamydia to hepatitis.

City staff say those in the lab told them "they are making pregnancy and COVID-19 tests."

Zieba says they learned the company previously operated in Fresno.

"Our understanding is that this company was in Fresno, there was a fire that displaced them and for an unknown measure they just happened to Reedley that they stopped in for storage and interim operation," said Zieba.

Through the abatement warrant approvals, officials have stopped the lab.

"On July 7 of this year, we were able to abate all the biological agents at that particular site," said Prado.

Both Zieba and Prado say this investigation is very unique.

"We run across unlicensed businesses all the time, a contractor who doesn't have a license and things like that but to walk to a door and see 30 freezers, refrigerators, lab supplies, medical equipment, just shocking," said Zieba.

"I have never experienced something like this in the last 26 years of my county career. So, this is, I think, a very unique situation," said Prado.

Prado adds they all took quick action to make sure everyone in the City of Reedley is safe.

"I just want to really reassure the community. This was done really to protect the public overall. And so we were successful with the biological agents being destroyed at this time, and so, but first and foremost the public safety was the main reason why we moved forward," said Prado.

Action News tried to reach out to the owners of the company but our attempts to contact them were unsuccessful.

Zieba says due to the lack of communication from the company to the health inspectors' inquiries, they consider the building abandoned and plan to destroy the property.

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