REEDLEY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – An investigation into a warehouse near Fresno uncovered a large-scale illegal medical lab complete with bioengineered mice, infectious agents, nearly 30 refrigerators and freezers some of which were non-operational, incubators, and more leaving officials shocked and the public worried.
Local, state, and federal agencies are all involved and what prompted this investigation was a simple garden hose that was illegally attached and coming out of a wall in the back of the building.
It was inside an ordinary warehouse located on “I” and Ninth Streets in the City of Reedley that a disturbing and shocking discovery was made back in April.
“This is an unusual situation. I’ve been in government for 25 years. I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba.
Even county health officials were left in shock.
“I’ve never seen this in my 26-year career with the County of Fresno,” said Assistant Director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health Joe Prado.
What was supposed to be an empty building used only for storage was home to a black-market type of lab testing facility.
“So there was over 800 different chemicals on site in different bottles of different acids. Unfortunately, a lot of these are being categorized under unknown chemicals,” Prado explained.
The discovery was made after a local code enforcement officer noticed a garden hose poking out a back wall of the building.
“Frankly, we knew that should not have been there and when she went to investigate, she found that there was activity or operation or something happening within that building,” Zieba said
The city then obtained several search warrants to enter the building and once inside they found something they had never seen.
“There was a special room that was built housing about 1000 white lab mice,” Zieba explained.
What they found was absolutely terrifying.
“Through their statements that they were doing some testing on laboratory mice that would help them support, developing the COVID test kits that they had on-site,” Prado said.
Health officials discovered nearly 1,000 lab mice, 200 of which were already dead.
Also found were thousands of vials, many of which contained biohazardous materials including human blood, and other unknown substances.
“A lot of these labels have been removed from bottles so there was only so much testing. We could do those chemicals,” Prado continued.
According to court documents officials with the Centers for Disease Control tested what they could and determined that at least 20 potentially infectious viral, bacterial, and parasitic agents were present including E. Coli, malaria, and even COVID.
“I think because of that swift action that was taken we had been able to maintain public safety this entire time,” Prado explained.
Over the course of several weeks, officials with local, state, and federal agencies worked to remove the materials from the location
“There are no more biologicals. There are no more mice, but they still will see us abating, 30 freezers and fridges, medical equipment, and all sorts of furniture in there. They’ll still see some activity, nothing hazardous at this point,” Zieba said.
Officials are still trying to figure out what type of operation was taking place inside that building. Prado said the owners operated under the name Prestige Biotech and the company president was not forthcoming with information.
A criminal investigation is also ongoing.
“Some of our federal partners still have active investigations going I can only speak to the building side of it,” Zieba explained.
Both Zieba and Prado wanted to remind the public that the biohazard material was contained and disposed of properly and at the moment there is no real public concern. All the mice inside the lab had to be humanely euthanized.