Inspection reports from the city of Fresno show numerous electrical and storage safety dangers — as well as chemicals stored outside the scope allowed — for the company whose disease samples, biological waste, and lab mice would be found months later at a storage facility in Reedley.
It took two years for city inspectors to follow up on demands to correct safety violations, according to city records. City leadership attributed the lack of timely accountability to COVID-19.
Additionally, once the inspections were made, absent management at UMI made it hard for inspectors to see what exactly was being kept at Universal Meditech Inc.’s facility in south central Fresno.
Landlord’s Complaints Prompted Inspectors to Check Out UMI
Complaints from property owners in August 2022 from North Pointe BP LP about UMI spurred then-Fresno Fire Department Chief Kerri Donis to send inspection teams to the medical device manufacturer’s facility at 1320 E. Fortune Ave., according to documents obtained by GV Wire through a Public Records Request.
“The (property) owners are also concerned that the smell in this building could be the result of animal testing. It says it’s a medical type supply business but something is off here.” — Kerri Donis, then Fresno Fire Department chief, in August 2022
The property owners took UMI to court at least twice over the condition of the building and changes made by UMI. One of those attempts tried to get them out of the building, according to an email from UMI CEO Xiaoxiao Wang included in the documents.
Following a fire in August 2020, divisions from Fresno Fire filed a list of code violations against UMI and what needed fixing.
The inspection report directed managers to remove hundreds of feet of extension cords, power strips, numerous overloaded circuits, and electrical boxes.
“Likely Covid impacted the ability to follow up,” Donis wrote in an email. City officials declined to comment to GV Wire for this story.
“The owners are also concerned that the smell in this building could be the result of animal testing,” Donis wrote in a August 2022 email. “It says it’s a medical type supply business but something is off here. Can we work together and with any other department appropriate to go check this out?”
Safety Nightmare at UMI Cited in 2020. Follow-up Came in 2022.
Inspectors had tried unsuccessfully to get into UMI twice in October 2022. Without a manager present, workers did not let inspectors in. Xiaoxiao Wang, CEO of UMI wrote in a November 2022 letter to the Code Enforcement Unit of Office of the City Attorney that he had been looking for new investors and could not be present.
When inspectors were finally able to get inside UMI on Oct. 31, 2022, the inspector reported “substantial modifications” including unsafe electrical upgrades and storage racking not secured to the ground. Electrical outlets and wiring were exposed throughout the building.
“The entire warehouse area electrical wiring was added without the required permits and inspections,” Senior Community Revitalization Specialist Raymond Golden with the Code Enforcement Unit of the Office of the City Attorney reported.
Inspectors in 2020 also reported electrical and storage violations.
Inspections by Fresno County Environmental Health found “items” stored that weren’t included in the county permit for hazardous materials, according to the city inspection report. GV Wire requested a copy of the Fresno County Environmental Health report but did not receive it before the publication of this story.
“Enforcement is delayed due to lack of company representative present to advise on the types of materials present or provide documentation of the materials,” the city report stated.
UMI Boss Told Not to Move Hazardous Materials
In the November 2022 letter to inspectors, Wang said the company had been contacting different “creditor companies to convert our existing assets to them to offset our company and their loans.”
Despite inspectors saying there had been no disposal protocol for chemicals at the company, “a large portion of the items have been disposed of,” according to Wang. There is no clarification on what the disposed items were. At the same time, Wang said creditors would pull their goods away, including chemicals.
“If you think there is anything wrong with the above chemical reagents, please find a temporary place ASAP, and we will send these reagents to that place according to your instructions, and at the same time, inform the creditor company not to pull these items for the time being,” Wang wrote in an email.
Golden, a city inspector, responded with this the same day that Wang emailed:
“I asked that the items not be moved during the pending relocation because these products need to be packaged and transported properly. The City of Fresno waste water inspectors could not gain access to the building today because no one was present except the crew packing up the equipment.”
UMI Packed Up Shop, Shipped to Reedley
By Dec. 22, 2022, inspectors reported UMI personnel had cleared out and left. The case was closed on Dec. 27, 2022. UMI had tried to reopen up until Aug. 2, when the city denied its application to move near the Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
Prestige Biotech would end up taking chemicals and biological materials from UMI — including the 1,000 lab mice, samples of at least 20 different diseases, and biological fluids — and store them at a Reedley lab. Before the mice were euthanized and incinerated by authorities, Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba said it was likely at least some of the dead mice ended up in landfills.