Reedley’s illegal biolab gets a clean sweep

Environmental Protection Agency clears remaining chemicals from lab on 850 I Street

Shot looking above the fence and shows the showroom entrance. (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published January 19, 2024  • 
9:00 am

REEDLEY – Reedley residents may have noticed some activity at 850 I Street, the site of the now infamous illegal biolab. However, there is no need for alarm, as cleanup of the building’s materials is underway and might even be done sooner than expected.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) arrived onsite Jan. 16 to start cleaning up the remaining chemicals in the warehouse. The cleanup may continue for up to two weeks; although at the last city council meeting, City Manager Nicole Zieba said she expects the work to be finished before then – possibly as early as Jan. 18.

“These are standard laboratory chemicals like reagents and acids and such. Nothing unusual has been found. The cleanup is going quicker than expected and is likely going to be done by tomorrow,” Zieba said in an email to the Times.

Zieba added, “I know the community is probably curious as to why it took so long to get this part done.  We had to be fit into the EPA’s timeline, and the team that was working with us had gotten diverted to Maui with the fire clean up.  I am relieved that one more step toward closure is taking place at 850 I St.”

The EPA is paying for the entire cleanup, which is projected to cost about $150,000.

After the EPA finishes cleanup duty, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the California branch of the FDA, the Food and Drug Branch (FDB), will remove and destroy the thousands of COVID-19 and pregnancy tests still in the warehouse.

Reedley Code Enforcement Officer Jesalyn Harper told ABC30 News that when the tests are destroyed, they will be destroyed onsite. This requirement comes from the Attorney General’s office.

“They’re stating that these devices are not fit to be out for consumer use, so they are not allowed to be removed from the facility,” she said. “They have to remain here until an officer from the Food and Drug Branch can come and sign off, verifying that they witnessed them being destroyed.”

Harper said she hopes the FDB can complete this phase of the cleanup next month.

A MAN OF MANY NAMES

On Oct. 19, 2023, federal authorities arrested Jia Bei Zhu, CEO of Universal Meditech, Inc. (UMI) outside of the warehouse at 850 I Street where UMI secretly ran its lab from December 2022 until March of 2023. After his arrest, Zhu was transported to Fresno County Jail.

On Nov. 16, 2023, a federal grand jury in Fresno indicted Zhu, who also went by the aliases Quiang David He and Jesse Zhu, on three criminal counts, including distributing adulterated and misbranded medical devices and for making false statements to federal officials.

If convicted, Zhu faces three years in prison and a $250,000 fine for disturbing the medical devices, as well as five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for making false statements to federal officials.

After Zhu was arrested, his lawyer, Tony Capozzi, said authorities acted illegally by seizing and, ultimately, destroying the chemicals and other items discovered in the lab.

“Our position was that the evidence presented to the court was not enough to show that there were any violations for them to go in and destroy the evidence, take the equipment, and close down the lab,” he said.

Zhu remains incarcerated in Fresno County Jail.

Darren Fraser
Reporter