Decades of research destroyed after cleaners shut off beeping lab fridge, lawsuit says US News

A janitor shut down a university’s refrigerator, destroying decades of research, a million-dollar lawsuit says.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has filed a lawsuit against a cleaning company after an employee tried to stop an “annoying beep” by turning off the refrigerator.

The New York-based facility used Daigle Cleaning Systems Inc to clean its Cogswell Building laboratory between August 2000 and November 2020, the lawsuit said.

The refrigerator in the room was set at -80 degrees Celsius, and even “a small temperature swing of three degrees could cause catastrophic damage, and many cell cultures and samples could be lost,” the lawsuit said.

Court documents say the research has the potential to be “groundbreaking” in chemistry and chemical biology work.

The freezer is said to be set to sound an alarm if the temperature rises to -78C or drops to -82C, which went off on September 14, 2020, even though a professor and their team found samples to be safe at -78C of.

Refrigerator makers have been asked to perform emergency repairs, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the service will not be available until Sept. 21.

In the lawsuit, the facility said the team used maximum security for the refrigerator, including installing security lock boxes on its electrical outlets, but cleaner Joseph Herrington’s attorney told NBC that the Sept. 17 On the 1st, he reported hearing an “annoying alarm” message.

Mr Herrington was allegedly concerned the circuit breaker had been switched off and tried to switch it back on.

An incident report cited in the lawsuit stated that “Herrington took actions that misinterpreted his interpretation of the panel.”

“He actually moved the circuit breaker from the ‘on’ position to the ‘off’ position around 8.30pm. At the end of the interview, he still didn’t seem convinced he had done anything wrong and just wanted to help.”

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Study ‘can’t be saved’

The next day, the staff found that the refrigerator had been turned off and the temperature was -32°C.

“Graduate researchers discovered that the refrigerator was turned off and the temperature had risen to the point where the research contained in it was destroyed,” the complaint said, adding, “Most specimens were damaged, destroyed beyond salvage, and demolished for more than 20 years. Research”.

Mr. Herrington is not the named defendant in the case, but the company he works for is.

“It is known and believed that Joe Herrington was a person with special needs,” the lawsuit said.

“Despite knowing these circumstances, Defendant failed to provide appropriate training to Joe Herrington prior to and during the performance of his duties as Defendant’s employee.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment sought by NBC News, Sky’s US partner network.

The professor’s team describes the work as “solar energy conversion in photosynthetic systems; capturing and converting it into usable energy”.

The amount of damage is believed to exceed $1 million.

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