Garry Bredefeld, member of the Fresno City Council, speaks at a news conference on Monday. Photo by Frank Lopez
Written by Frank Lopez
A Fresno City Council member is calling for health officials to be held responsible for the operation of an illegal medical lab in Reedley.
Councilmember Garry Bredefeld held a city hall press conference Monday morning demanding to know why the County of Fresno and its health department did not inform the public of the discovery of the biological medical lab sooner.
On July 25, The Midvalley Times reported that in March Reedley code enforcement officers began their investigation into a warehouse at 850 I Street over an illegally attached garden hose, discovering an illegal medical lab operated by Prestige Biotech Inc. of Nevada.
In December 2022, the City of Reedley first contacted the county about possible code violations. The Fresno County Public Health Department first entered the warehouse in April.
Investigators discovered nearly 1,000 bioengineered lab mice, infectious agents including E.Coli, malaria and coronavirus, various chemicals, medical waste, blood, tissue, serum, body fluid samples and illegal pregnancy tests.
The mice were later euthanized.
According to a search on the Nevada Secretary of State Business Registration page, the president of Prestige Biotech is listed as Xiuqin Yao.
According to NBC news, Yao told officials that Prestige Biotech moved assets belonging to the defunct Universal Meditech to the Reedley warehouse from Fresno after Universal Meditech closed operations.
Bredefeld wants answers from the Fresno County Board of Supervisors on why they didn’t inform the public about the incident, learning about the case from midvalleytimes.com, which sourced health department officials.
He also wants to know if the owners of these companies are Chinese nationals and if the lab was funded by China’s government.
“The public has a right to know what did the Board of Supervisors know about the lab, when did they know it and why they didn’t inform the public,” said Bredefeld, who is challenging Steve Brandau for his District 2 supervisor seat.
Bredefeld also wants to know if there are any current hazards to the public due to medical waste and infectious agents, and if there are any potential impacts to farms and the environment around the lab.
He is also asking if there were any safety protocols in place at the medical lab.
Bredefeld said the county as well as the City of Fresno must find out if there are any other illegal medical labs in the area.
Joe Prado, assistant director with the Fresno County Department of Public Health, said the first public notice was made in March, with Reedley issuing an abatement warrant and closing the facility.
The next public notification was from the county health department, issuing a health officer order placed its website as well as at the facility.
There were subsequent health officer orders issues in May and June, all of which were available online, Prado said.
Prado said that from January to March, the city and the county health department discussed other code violations, and wanted to know what was happening there and what chemicals were being used.
“Unfortunately, this business chose to provide limited information and not answer our questions as well,” Prado said.
On April 21-23 , a health officer order was used by the county to physically enter the site to see what was going on in the warehouse.
An abatement warrant was issued in June for the county to destroy all biological agents, which was completed on July 7.
There are still chemical agents, medical devices and other equipment on site, and now the City of Reedley will be tasked to complete the destruction of everything remaining, Prado said.
There is indication that the lab did not have the appropriate medical waste vendor to dispose of the waste, Prado said. Items were dumped into a garbage bin behind the facility, which eventually made its way to the landfill.
Prado said there are no indications of harm to public health.
He added there is still an ongoing state and federal investigation into the lab. There were concerns a larger media announcement could hinder the investigation.
When a laboratory gets public funding, federal regulations come into play, specifically the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act, which is enforced by the California Department of Public Health.
Prado said that the lab in Reedley was a private lab that did not fall under federal regulation.
This is an opportunity for lawmakers to evaluate if private labs need additional oversight, Prado said.
Prado said that the county responded to this first and foremost with public safety in mind.