Local and federal authorities have shut down what seems to be an illegal medical lab hidden in a California warehouse that contained nearly 1,000 laboratory mice, hundreds of unknown chemicals, refrigerators and freezers, vials of biohazardous materials, including blood, incubators, and at least 20 infectious agents, including SARS-CoV-2, HIV, and a herpes virus.
According to NBC News affiliate KSEE of Fresno, local authorities were first tipped off to the unlicensed facility when a local code enforcement officer noticed that a garden hose was illegally attached to the back of the building. That led city officials to obtain a search warrant to inspect the warehouse, which was supposed to only be used for storage.
According to court documents obtained by NBC News, city officials inspected the warehouse, located in Reedley, southeast of Fresno, on March 3. County health officials then inspected the facility on March 16. What they found reportedly shocked them.
"This is an unusual situation. I’ve been in government for 25 years. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba told KSEE.
There were rooms with "vessels of liquid and various apparatus," court documents said. " "Fresno County Public Health staff also observed blood, tissue and other bodily fluid samples and serums; and thousands of vials of unlabeled fluids and suspected biological material." There was also a room full of mice.
According to the court documents, the mice were kept in inhumane conditions. More than 175 were found dead, and the city took possession of the remaining animals in April and euthanized 773. Substances collected from the lab were given to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing. The agency detected at least 20 potentially infectious agents, the documents read.
Assistant Director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health Joe Prado said that all the biological agents had been destroyed as of July 7. Although officials were still working on removing equipment from the warehouse, Zieba said that there is " nothing hazardous at this point."
A criminal investigation is ongoing. The tenant of the warehouse is listed as Prestige Biotech. Prado told KSEE that the company's president, Xiuquin Yao, was not forthcoming with information. According to the court documents, Yao told officials that his company had moved assets belonging to a defunct company called Universal Meditech Inc. (UMI), to the Reedley warehouse from another Fresno location where UMI had operated before it was evicted. Prestige was identified as a creditor to UMI. But, Prestige allegedly failed to provide any licensing or permit that would explain the laboratory activity at the warehouse.