Illegal Unlicensed Lab Investigated in Fresno – NBC Los Angeles

FRESNO — Federal and local authorities have spent months investigating a warehouse in Fresno County, California, where they suspect there was an illegal, unlicensed lab full of lab mice, medical waste and hazardous materials.

The Fresno County Department of Public Health is “analyzing and evaluating the activities of the unlicensed lab” at Ridley, Department of Health Assistant Director Joe Prado said in a statement Thursday. All of the biological agents were destroyed on July 7 following a lawsuit conducted by the agency.

“The assessment required coordination and collaboration with multiple federal and state agencies to identify and classify the biological and chemical contents at the site, and to assess jurisdictional authority in this unique situation,” Prado said.

According to court documents, on March 3, the city authorities inspected the facility on the street. 850 I for building violations and found several chemical warehouses. On March 16, an inspection by county health authorities reportedly found medical devices believed to have been locally developed, such as pregnancy tests and Covid tests.

“Various liquid containers and various devices were found in some areas of the warehouse,” the court documents say. “Fresno County public health officials also observed samples of blood, tissue and other body fluids and serum; and thousands of vials of unlabeled fluids and suspicious biological material.”

According to court documents, hundreds of mice in the warehouse were kept in inhumane conditions. The city took possession of the animals in April, choosing 773 of them; over 175 people were found dead.

According to a June 6 letter from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested the substances and found at least 20 potentially infectious agents, including coronaviruses, HIV, hepatitis and herpes.

An investigation revealed that the tenant was Prestige BioTech, a Nevada-registered company not licensed to do business in California. City officials spoke to Xiukuing Yao, who was identified as the company’s president, through emails included in court documents.

Yao told officials that Prestige BioTech moved assets belonging to defunct Universal Meditech Inc. to Fresno’s Ridley warehouse after UMI went bankrupt. According to court documents, Prestige Biotech was UMI’s creditor and called itself its successor.

Officials were unable to obtain any California addresses for any of the companies, with the exception of the former Fresno office from which UMI was evicted.

“Other addresses provided for identified authorized agents were either vacant offices or addresses in China that could not be verified,” court documents say.

Prestige BioTech is accused of failing to comply with orders, including providing a biological recovery plan and disposing of materials. Emails sent to Yao and Prestige BioTech asking for comment were not immediately returned on Thursday.

Prado told him to Fresno affiliate NBC KSEEthat those associated with Prestige BioTech were unwilling to provide information. Court documents note that they have not granted any licenses or permits to allow experiments or other laboratory activities.

City manager Ridley Nicole Zieba told KSEE that officials have cleared the site of hazardous materials but are still working to free the warehouse.

“Some of our federal partners are still actively investigating. I can only speak from the side of the building,” Zieba said.

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