By Luke Andrews Health Reporter For Dailymail.Com
21:30 18 Oct 2023, updated 23:21 18 Oct 2023
A Chinese-run biolab in California that contained hundreds of vials of deadly viruses could have sparked a major disease outbreak, a top House committee has warned.
Dr Brad Wenstrup, a Republican congressman from Ohio and chairman of the committee investigating the Covid pandemic, said in remarks Wednesday that even a seemingly minor misstep, like accidentally tearing a protective glove, could have led to a disastrous leak from the lab.
The illegal facility based in Fresno, California was discovered by investigators in December 2022 and contained biological samples of Covid, HIV, herpes and malaria, among other virus samples, as well as hundreds of mice that had been genetically altered to be more susceptible to viral infections.
Photos obtained by DailyMail.com via court documents at the time showed boxes stacked on top of each other at the lab, with an investigation later revealing the facility had received nearly $150,000 in funding from US taxpayers.
At a hearing today on strengthening biolab regulations nationally and internationally, Dr Wenstrup, the head of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, said: ‘Lab leaks can occur for a multitude of reasons.
‘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.
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‘[This was] where… a Chinese company operated an illegal laboratory where it conducted dangerous experiments involving Covid-19 and other viruses.
‘Inside this lab, authorities found hundreds of mice that had been genetically modified to catch and carry [the] Covid-19 virus.
‘This is troubling, as we already know these lab-related incidents, if not contained, can cause predictable but disastrous consequences.’
Experts warned when the illegal lab was detected it raised the risk of viruses escaping and causing widespread infections in the community.
They also warned because of the unsafe conditions, pathogens could have settled on the packaging used for Covid and pregnancy tests that were being stored in the warehouse — putting customers at risk of infection.
The discovery of the facility is made even more concerning given suggestions Covid-19 escaped from a lab in China.
Many experts believe the Covid pandemic was sparked by a lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China, which was known to experiment on coronaviruses.
The US has also faced several lab leaks in the past despite its strict safety protocols, including smallpox, tuberculosis and Zika virus — with the most recent occurring in 2016.
Dr Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert and director of the University of California San Francisco’s Center for AIDS Research, has said previously: ‘This was a very disturbing news story.
‘Given the potential for such laboratories to accidentally unleash agents that can endanger the public, we need regulation to ensure biosafety is maintained at all times in laboratories around the world studying infectious pathogens’.
Concerns were also raised by many of the 25,000 local residents, with one saying online: ‘How is it that they didn’t know? So any business comes in and pays and that’s it, no follow-up, really? Someone needs to answer to this.’
Another added: ‘There is more to it… We just know what they want us to know… I DON’T FEEL LIKE THEY KEPT ME SAFE!’
The Select Subcommittee wields strong influence in the coronavirus debate, with its chairman claiming just last month Dr Anthony Fauci was secretly escorted to CIA headquarters to be asked to take part in the agency’s probe into Covid origins.
The illegal lab in Fresno County was only detected late last year after an enforcement officer noticed a garden hose sticking out of the back of the building.
Once Inside, investigators found industrial freezers stuffed with hundreds of vials of biological material and piles upon piles of cardboard boxes.
There were also 1,000 dead or dying laboratory mice that had been genetically altered to be more vulnerable to catching human infections.
The lab had been run by Universal Meditech Inc, a company with strong ties to China, which had been making unlicensed Covid and pregnancy tests sold in Texas and California.
But after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered a recall of its products citing lack of approval, the company went bankrupt.
It was then taken on by one of its creditors, Prestige Biotech, which ordered the lab equipment moved from the main lab in Fresno to the warehouse in nearby Reedley, California.
Investigators have now been in to clear the lab and deep clean it in order to remove any potentially dangerous pathogens which could be lurking there. The rodents have also all been destroyed.
Investigators also raided offices in China connected to Prestige Biotech, but the buildings were empty and no company employees were present.
Meditech recently tried to sue the county for $50million over the destruction of the lab saying the danger posed was overstated, but the county responded saying there was ‘no merit’ to the claim.
Among the viruses and bacteria that were labeled in the California facility, inspectors found hepatitis B and C, dengue, HIV, two strains of the herpes virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), tuberculosis, meningitis, rubella, coronavirus, and malaria.
A wide array of vials in the facility were also identified as containing biomaterials, including blood and tissue from unidentified sources, as well as many other unlabeled chemicals.