REEDLEY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – An investigation into a warehouse in Reedley, California, uncovered a large-scale illegal medical lab complete with bioengineered mice, infectious agents, nearly 30 refrigerators and freezers, incubators and more.
The investigation was prompted by a simple garden hose that was illegally attached and coming out of a wall in the back 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,” said Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba.
The city then obtained a search warrant to look inside what should have been an ordinary warehouse. Inside, they found thousands of vials, many of which contained bio-hazardous materials like human blood, and other unknown substances.
“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,” said Assistant Director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health Joe Prado. “A lot of these labels have been removed from bottles so there was only so much testing. We could do those chemicals.”
Health officials also discovered nearly 1,000 lab mice, 200 of which were dead.
Prado said the warehouse occupants claimed they were “doing some testing on laboratory mice that would help them support, developing the COVID test kits that they had on-site.”
According to court documents, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested what they could and determined that at least 20 potentially infectious viral, bacterial, and parasitic agents were present, including E. coli, malaria, and the virus that causes COVID-19.
“This is an unusual situation. I’ve been in government for 25 years. I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Zieba.
“I’ve never seen this in my 26-year career with the County of Fresno,” Prado agreed.
Over the course of several weeks, officials with local, state, and federal agencies worked to remove the materials from the location
“I think because of that swift action that was taken we had been able to maintain public safety this entire time,” Prado explained.
“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.
All of the mice inside the lab had to be euthanized.