The secret Chinese-run Reedley biologics lab is continuing to be scrutinized nationally, taking center stage in the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic on Wednesday.
House members discussed the lab and the topic of strengthening biolab regulations nationally.
Driving the news: Committee Chairman Brad Wenstrup, a Republican from Ohio, warned that the Reedley warehouse could have initiated a major disease outbreak.
- Fresno Fresno County and other government officials investigated the lab, they found various biologic materials and infectious agents, such as COVID-19, HIV, herpes and malaria.
- The lab was initially operated by Universal Meditech Inc. in Fresno County, which went bankrupt and was taken over by Prestige Biotech. The company moved its materials into the Reedley warehouse as it was planning to move into a new lab by Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
What they’re saying: Wenstrup, speaking during a committee hearing on Wednesday, warned that lab leaks could have easily happened at the facility as has happened in other labs before involving H1N1, H5N1, smallpox, tuberculosis and zika.
- “Lab leaks can occur for a multitude of reasons,” Wenstrup said. “They can occur because of mishandled biological materials, escaped aerosols, laboratory design flaws or human error, which can be as simple as failing to correctly wear protective equipment or accidentally puncturing a glove. Such an accident could easily have occurred in Fresno County, California.”
- Wenstrup called the lab’s operations dangerous for conducting experiments with COVID-19 and other viruses.
- “Troubling, as we already know, these lab related incidents if not contained can cause predictable but disastrous consequences,” Wenstrup said. “Desiring more laboratory safety and more oversight isn’t to chill the scientific community from engaging in research, but to ensure we’re taking every precaution necessary to protect the public from escaped pathogens of which we cannot control nor fully understand the consequences until it’s too late.”