FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Court documents detail the horrors and dangerous nature of an illegal lab found in Reedley, California, exposed several months ago by a city code enforcement officer. What was found inside prompted the fire chief to send a letter to city officials describing it as a “potential disaster for the city.”
An investigation into the warehouse 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 [on] 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 [and develop] 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.
For the first half of 2023, the process of cleaning the Reedley location was stuck in court. Electrical issues were highlighted, including adding outlets for running refrigerators and freezers. There were also unmarked, highly-flammable chemicals being stored there. Officials were worried about the risk of a possible explosion, which prompted Reedley Fire Chief Jerry Isaak to send a letter to Zieba.
Photos courtesy Fresno County
The letter outlined a planned evacuation zone in case of an incident at the warehouse. Included in the area were the Reedley Police Department, Reedley’s city hall, the main office of Kings Canyon Unified School District, and 12 homes.
Due to a gas station next door to the warehouse, the fire chief wrote in the letter that “the concern increased of a potential disaster for our city.” The letter was instrumental in the city getting warrants to go into the property. Since then, city, county, state and federal agencies have all been approved to go in.
In April, government officials euthanized over 700 of the mice found inside. At the beginning of July, chemicals were removed too, and the removal of chemicals and other products will continue into the coming months.
City officials want to make it clear to the public that they are not nearly in as much danger as they were in April when the letter from the fire chief was written.
“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 last month.
In a statement, the California Department of Public Health revealed that their staff members are “working with local, state, and federal partners, as well as law enforcement authorities, to assess the situation,” adding that it is an ongoing investigation that will take time to resolve.
A criminal investigation is also ongoing.