According to a new report, a Chinese-owned lab in California was found to have vials of biological substances labeled with various diseases, including “HIV” and a freezer marker Ebola.
The House Committee on the Chinese Communist Party shared the news on Wednesday, noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FBI initially refused to investigate the lab after city officials discovered it.
The lab was being operated illegally in the city of Reedley, California, and was discovered in December of last year when a code enforcement officer noticed something at a warehouse thought to have been vacant for more than a decade.
The officer, Jesalyn Harper, entered the warehouse and discovered the lab, which had equipment, manufacturing devices, and other materials labeled in Mandarin, English, and a coded language, which had not been deciphered.
Harper said that she also discovered several individuals inside wearing lab coats, and when she asked them who they were, they identified themselves as Chinese nationals.
The discovery resulted in a 9-month investigation by the city. Eventually, the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party started its own investigation in September and shared its results on Wednesday in a 42-page report.
At a hearing, the committee detailed some of its findings and questions raised by the presence of an apparent Chinese-owned research lab on U.S. soil.
“Local officials spent months repeatedly trying to obtain assistance from the CDC,” the report says, adding that “the CDC refused to speak with them and, on a number of occasions, it was reported by local officials that the CDC hung up on them mid-conversation.”
The report continued, saying that investigators found that “Local officials were similarly unable to get any help from other federal agencies,” including the FBI, which had “closed its investigation because the Bureau believed that there were no weapons of mass destruction on the property.”
Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) eventually began assisting in the investigation. With his help, CDC officials finally showed up at the lab and identified numerous “serious or lethal human diseases.”
According to the report, the agency found samples of SARS-CoV-2, Chlamydia, HIV, E. coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Hepatitis B and C, Dengue virus, the Rubella virus, and Malaria.
However, the CDC refused to sample or examine the unlabeled vials, even with a request from city officials.
The report slams the CDC’s hesitancy in investigating the lab, adding that its refusal to test the vials was “unacceptable.”
Eventually, local officials had a hazardous waste firm carry out the destruction of 140 tons of lab equipment and 440 gallons of medical and biological waste located at the bio lab.
While the contracted firm was working in the lab, they located a freezer that was labeled “Ebola,” a disease that has a death rate of 25% to 90% when contracted.
“Local officials and contractors reported that they found a freezer labeled ‘Ebola’ with silver sealed bags found inside consistent with how the Reedley Biolab operators stored sensitive biological and other materials,” the report states.
The bags inside the freezer were not all labeled “Ebola,” the report added.
The report shared that the contents in the fridge were not tested before being destroyed and that photographs of it were not taken.
The House panel said that “with the exception of Ebola,” the vials of presumed pathogens are “inconsistent with the operation of a bioweapons program.”
Still, the report says that “the public health risks posed by the lab are unknown and, at this point, unknowable.”
“At a minimum, the Reedley Biolab shows the profound threat that unlicensed and unknown biolabs pose to our country. At worst, this investigation revealed significant gaps in our nation’s defenses and pathogen-related regulations that present a grave national security risk that could be exploited in the future,” the report states. “It is therefore incumbent upon Congress and the Executive Branch to address these vulnerabilities now before it is too late.”