Janitor pulls the plug on storage freezer in New York lab to stop incessant beep – but also destroys DECADES worth of science research worth $1million
- An unnamed custodian allegedly unplugged a freezer containing cell cultures, samples and other elements to further analyze photosynthesis
- The sudden temperature change ‘compromised, destroyed and rendered unsalvageable’ the majority of the specimens
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is seeking an unspecified amount of damages from the third-party contractor
A janitor allegedly destroyed two decades worth of research, resulting in at least $1million in damages, when he shut off a freezer that’s alarm had been blaring.
The unnamed custodian from Daigle Cleaning Services was working at the Cogswell Building at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York the night of September 17, 2020 when he said he heard ‘annoying alarms’ and went to an open electrical box in an effort to turn it off.
He shut off the circuit breaker, a lawsuit filed in Rensselaer County court claims, sending the temperatures inside the freezer to jump from negative 112 degrees Fahrenheit to negative 25.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
‘A majority of specimens were compromised, destroyed and rendered unsalvageable, demolishing more than 20 years of research,’ the lawsuit says.
The damages are believed to be at least $1million, but the university is seeking an unspecified amount of damages from the third-party contractor.
An unnamed customer from Daigle Cleaning Services allegedly shut off a freezer containing lab specimens in September 2020
The freezer had been storing cell cultures, samples and other elements at negative 112 degrees Fahrenheit in an effort to better understand photosynthesis and develop better solar panels. A lab at the university is seen here
According to the lawsuit, the freezer alarm had been triggered by a mechanical malfunction that stopped the unit from maintaining a constant temperature.
Repairs for the freezer — which held cell cultures, samples and other elements to further analyze photosynthesis in an effort to improve solar panel development — had been scheduled for September 21.
Professor KV Lakshmi was the one conducting the research
In the meantime, the suit says, a letter hang on the freezer explaining the source of the alarm, with instructions on how to silence it.
‘This freezer is beeping as it is under repairs,’ the sign reportedly said in all capital letters. ‘Please do not move or unplug it.
‘No cleaning required in this area,’ the letter continued. ‘You can press the alarm/test mute button for five to 10 seconds if you would like to mute the sound.’
But the cleaner has claimed to public safety officers on campus that he thought he was flipping the circuit breaker on.
‘People’s behavior and negligence caused all this,’ RPI’s attorney Michael Ginsberg told the Albany Times Union. ‘Unfortunately, they wiped out 25 years worth of research.’
Ginsberg added that it would cost an estimated $1million to replicate the work under Professor KV Lakshmi, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology.
Daigle Cleaning Services, meanwhile, had a $1.4million contract with the school to clean facilities during the fall 2020 semester.