Annoyed custodian shuts down laboratory freezers destroying at least 2 decades of research

The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute laboratory in Troy, New York reported that a janitor working in the lab was frustrated by an incessant beeping and flipped a switch in an attempt to silence it.

However, this action had a much bigger consequence, as it resulted in the shutdown of a storage freezer, consequently destroying decades of scientific work. This carelessness is estimated to have caused at least $1 million worth of damage, and has led to the institute’s filing of a lawsuit against their third-party cleaning service.

The freezer, which was able to maintain a temperature of minus-112 degrees Fahrenheit, had stored cell cultures, samples, and other elements. However, when the worker from Daigle Cleaning Services flipped the circuit breaker, the temperature rapidly dropped to minus-25.6 degrees, damaging or destroying its contents.

It is suspected that the beeping alarm had been triggered by a mechanical malfunction that had prevented the unit from maintaining a constant temperature. Furthermore, there was a sign on the freezer door which stated that no cleaning was required in the area and that the alarm could be silenced by pressing a mute button for 5-10 seconds, although this was apparently not followed.

The report from the RPI public safety staff states that the cleaner thought they were flipping the breaker on when they actually turned it off. As a result, the lawsuit claims that “a majority of specimens were compromised, destroyed and rendered unsalvageable, demolishing more than 20 years of research.”

It is estimated that it would cost around $1 million to replicate the research, which focused on photosynthesis and may have furthered solar panel development. The cleaning service contracted with the university has a $1.4 million agreement to clean their facilities for the 2020 fall semester.

Derek Foster, president of the Albany-based cleaning service, could not be reached for comment.