Cars parked outside a run-down old warehouse. A garden hose protruding through a rear wall and a foul odor coming from within. Upon entry, this city code officer got the shock of her life as she discovered improperly stored dangerous pathogens. How many more of these illegal labs exist in the United States?
Story at a Glance
- In mid-December 2022, an illegal Chinese medical lab was discovered in Reedley, California, in a dilapidated warehouse. The company, Universal Meditech Inc.—which was operating without a state license or other required permits—was manufacturing a wide variety of test kits, including pregnancy tests, ovulation tests, COVID-19 test kits, and various drug tests.
- The lab was found to be improperly storing at least 20 infectious agents, including E. coli, coronavirus, malaria, hepatitis B and C, dengue, chlamydia, herpes, rubella, and HIV.
- Investigations were launched by local, state, and federal authorities, all of whom concluded there was no criminal activity going on at the lab, nor any evidence that the lab posed a threat to public health or national security.
- On Aug. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about several of the tests produced in the Reedley lab. Universal Meditech has also issued a recall of tests that have already been sent to distributors, but not for tests that have already reached consumers.
- While the investigation into the illicit lab began in late December 2022, the public wasn’t informed about its existence until July 2023. According to local officials, state and federal agencies told them to keep quiet.
In mid-December 2022, Jesalyn Harper, a code enforcement officer for the city of Reedley, California, responded to a seemingly routine complaint about parked cars outside a run-down, decades-old warehouse.
She got suspicious when she discovered a garden hose protruding through a rear wall, and a foul odor coming from a ventilation fan.
Investigators Claim There Was No ThreatLocal, state, and federal authorities all launched investigations, concluding there was no criminal activity going on at the lab, nor any evidence that the lab posed a threat to public health or national security.
The mice, said to have been genetically engineered to carry SARS-CoV-2, were inspected by a veterinarian associated with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
According to the vet, the mice had not been exposed to any kind of experimentation. They’d only been used to grow SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. The owner of the business told the Fresno health department that the mice were used to confirm their COVID test worked.
FDA Warning for Reedley Lab Tests Has Been IssuedOn Aug. 11, the FDA issued a warning12 about several of the test kits produced in the Reedley lab. Universal Meditech has also issued a recall of tests that have already been sent to distributors, but not for tests that have already reached consumers.
- Prestige Biotech Inc.
- AC&C Distribution LLC.
- Home Health U.S. Inc.
- One Step Pregnancy Test.
- DiagnosUS One Step Ovulation Test.
- HealthyWiser UriTest 10 Parameter Reagent Test Strips for Urinalysis.
- HealthyWiser UriTest UTI Test Strips.
- HealthyWiser KetoFast Ketone Test Strips.
- HealthyWiser pH-Aware pH Test Strips.
- To Life hCG Pregnancy Urine Test.
- Am I Pregnant Pregnancy Midstream Test.
- DeTec hCG Pregnancy Urine Test.
- PrestiBio Pregnancy Strips.
- PrestiBio Rapid Detection Pregnancy Test Midstream.
- PrestiBio Ovulation Strips.
- PrestiBio Urinalysis Test Strip 10 Parameters.
- PrestiBio Ketone Test Strips.
- PrestiBio Breast Milk Alcohol Test Strips.
- Do not purchase or use any of these tests.
- If you’ve purchased any of these tests, throw them out.
- If you’ve used any of these tests, do not trust the results. Test again with a different test.
- If you’ve experienced a quality problem with any of these tests, contact the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program.
State and Federal Officials Wanted It Kept Quiet
"As we were communicating with state and federal agencies, they’re making it very clear, we cannot speak on this. This is our protocol, this is what they adhered to and they’re not able to speak on an ongoing investigation. They’ve made that clear pretty much since day one."Ms. Zieba told ABC News she decided to heed their advice since the Department of Toxic Substances Control found no threats in the water, sewer system, or air. "Had there been any hazard to their safety, we would have immediately notified the public," she said.
"Concerned residents cannot be dismissed as annoying ‘Gadflies’ by city officials or staff, they must be taken seriously and addressed. For each question posed, there are 50+ others seeking the same answers, although they might not articulate the questions themselves.
"Our ‘gadflies’ are an important part of our societal ecosystem and we need to encourage the public to speak up and ask for clarity when they have questions and we must demand timely answers that aren’t CYA narrative from those sworn to protect us. Public servants must remember they are not rulers over us, as some might believe, but they are here to serve us all."
No Medical Lab OversightFears about bioweapons production in rural America aside, the discovery of the illegal lab in Reedley has also exposed another problem, which is that there’s no governmental agency in charge of overseeing private medical labs.21 As noted by Ms. Harper:22
"We’re finding out that with these private labs, there really isn’t as much regulation as there is for publicly funded labs, labs that receive grants. There’s no one technically looking for them."The frightening reality is that no one knows how many other facilities like Universal Meditech there might be in the United States and elsewhere. According to ABC News:23
"House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican who represents a Congressional district neighboring Reedley’s, said ... he plans to raise concerns over the ‘very disturbing’ case with colleagues on the Select Committee on China and follow up with the FBI.
"‘My concern is to get to the bottom of what happened here but to also look at where this is happening in other parts of this country as well,’ McCarthy said."Shoddy and unprofessional labs like Universal Meditech aren’t the only private facilities that can pose a threat to public health. Genentech, owned by Roche, was in August 2021 found to be in violation of hazardous waste management, including hazardous waste air emissions, at three different locations in South San Francisco.24
COVID Pandemic and Reedley Lab Are Stark WarningsBetween the COVID pandemic (which most likely was the result of a biolab accident in Wuhan, China), and the discovery of an illegal lab in Reedley (which haphazardly stored infectious pathogens in a facility deemed so dilapidated that it must now be torn down), I’d say there’s cause for concern.
How many more illegal labs are there in the United States? How many around the world? How many infectious pathogens are out there, stored in freezers with makeshift wiring and handled by workers wearing nothing but plastic gloves and surgical masks? How many seemingly "respectable" companies are cutting corners in their hazardous waste management and their biosecurity?
Families Sue EcoHealth Alliance Over Coronavirus ResearchUnfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be sufficient political will to grapple with this threat. That would probably be the most effective strategy. Instead, people are forced to turn to lawsuits.
The lawsuit, filed with the Manhattan Supreme Court, argues that EcoHealth Alliance funded coronavirus research at the WIV that led to the creation of SARS-CoV-2, and that its president, Peter Daszak, knew the virus was dangerous and "capable of causing a worldwide pandemic."
"Despite partially-funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where the virus originated, EcoHealth failed to make sure critical safety measures were in place—then worked to cover up the origins of the outbreak, they claimed in court papers.
"‘If we had known the source or origin of this virus and had not been misled that it was from a pangolin in a wet market, and rather we knew that it was a genetically manipulated virus, and that the scientists involved were concealing that from our clients, the outcome could have been very different,’ Patricia Finn, the victims’ attorney, told The Post ...
"‘[The families of the deceased] are ... enraged because the truth of what really happened appears to be coming forward,’ Finn added ...
"In a June report, the Government Accountability Office said that EcoHealth Alliance—which doles out money given to them by the National Institutes of Health—gave $1,413,720 to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, while a separate investigation found the government may have paid millions in duplicating grants to the Wuhan-based research institutions through EcoHealth."With any amount of luck, lawsuits against the companies, organizations, and individuals involved in risky gain-of-function research on coronaviruses will make these mad scientists think twice. Still, we need a comprehensive worldwide ban, and a solid international agreement, to safeguard the world from pandemics like COVID-19.
- 1, 22 Shockya.com August 8, 2023
- 2 Legal Insurrection August 16, 2023
- 3, 5, 16, 21, 23 ABC News August 9, 2023
- 4, 6, 8, 10, 11 ABC30.com August 9, 2023
- 7, 20, 24, 25 Everything South City August 12, 2023
- 9 KMPH.com Photo Gallery
- 12, 15 FDA Warning August 11, 2023
- 13, 14 Fresnobee August 15, 2023
- 17, 19 MSN August 10, 2023
- 18 Fox News August 9, 2023
- 26, 27 New York Post August 12, 2023