REEDLEY – At the Aug. 29 Coffee with the City, hosted by the Greater Reedley Chamber of Commerce, City Manager Nicole Zieba assured the illegal lab found in Reedley is being cleared out and taken care of.
According to Zieba, there is still an illegal lab in the city – technically. However, she assured all biologicals and infectious agents initially found in the building have since been removed.
“What we have right now are typical lab chemicals,” Zieba said. “We have roughly half a million pregnancy tests and COVID tests with various brands on them.”
Zieba said that in the warehouse on I Street, there are walls of boxes containing these tests.
“We know they (Prestige Biotech) just haphazardly moved in and shoved all this stuff in there,” she said. “Beginning either Sept. 6 or Sept. 8, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) will take charge of removing the chemicals.”
The EPA will be onsite throughout the month of September. Not only that, but the agency is picking up the $150,000 tab for removing the chemicals.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as the California version of the FDA, which is called the Food and Drug Branch (FDB), will take charge of destroying the pregnancy tests and COVID tests.
“The interesting thing I learned is that all product recalls are voluntary,” Zieba said. “The FDA expects companies acting on their own goodwill to put out recall notices and then recall a product and destroy it on their own, which is why we now have a warehouse full of recalled tests that should not be there and should have been destroyed.”
After that, the job is out of Reedley’s hands, Zieba said. As a city, she said Reedley’s sphere of jurisdiction is limited compared to what the state can prosecute as well as what the federal government can prosecute. If the city of Reedley is to take action, she said the city would have to convince the district attorney that the case is worth pursuing.
“We can prosecute on animal cruelty charges and that’s about it,” said Zieba. “And we intend to pursue that.”
Zieba also noted Reedley is not always privy to state and federal investigations. She added that even if the city is privy to an external investigation, it is not allowed to discuss the details publicly.
Zieba said Reedley will have an after-action briefing with all of the other agencies involved in the investigations.
“We want to know, because we’re writing the manual for other cities to follow in the future,” she said.
On Aug. 25, Zieba received an email from the senior counsel from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce. She said the counsel wanted to know Reedley’s impressions of what laws should be changed nationwide so another illegal lab does not happen again.
“That’s our legacy moment,” she said. “We have an opportunity to change the future.”