EPA clears illegal Reedley biolab

Agency spends four days removing hazardous materials from 850 I Street

Shot from sidewalk outside of the north gate on I St, near entrance to Sanchez Recycle. Shows majority of covered storage area for Alliance Inc….tile and countertops are in view. (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published January 25, 2024  • 
9:00 am

REEDLEY – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spent four days at the site of the illegal biolab in Reedley, removing chemicals and flammable liquids.

According to a Jan. 22 EPA press release, the cleanup began on Jan. 15. EPA spokesman Michael Brogan said an EPA official was onsite overseeing the work, which was carried out by contractors hired by the agency. 

Contractors removed over 800 containers of standard lab chemicals, such as nitric acid, phosphoric acid and sodium hydroxide. Some of the hazardous materials were stored in unmarked or incorrectly marked containers. Some of the containers, such as water bottles and laundry detergent containers, were incompatible for storing chemicals.

All the hazardous material was packaged and transported for incineration at disposal facilities.

The EPA paid for the cleanup, which cost about $150,000. The operation was undertaken in coordination with local, state and federal agencies.

Universal Meditech, Inc. and its successor, Prestige Biotech, Inc., owned and ran the lab. The lab operated clandestinely from December 2022 until March 2023.

COVID AND PREGNANCY TESTS NEXT

The cleanup at 850 I Street warehouse began last year following the discovery of infectious agents and other hazardous materials in the building.

The EPA began its cleanup after all biological and medical waste had been removed from the facility. These biologics included HIV, malaria, E. coli, herpes and COVID.

Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba said that following the EPA cleanup, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the California branch of the FDA, the Food and Drug Branch, 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. 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.

CITY AND COUNTY REACH SETTLEMENT

In a related story, Reedley and Fresno County reached a financial settlement with AY-NC, LP, the owners of the warehouse.

On Oct. 13, 2023, Reedley sent AY-NC, LP an invoice for $310,524. The amount was for what the city and what Fresno County paid for code enforcement and abatement costs related to the closing of the biolab. After several months of negotiations, AY-NC, LP agreed to pay $260,524 – $135,575 to Reedley and $124,949 to the County. 

Darren Fraser
Reporter