Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute sues cleaning company after freezer shutdown destroys decades of research

June 29, 2023
The suit contends a custodial worker shut off power to a laboratory freezer where materials were kept at super-cold temperatures.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., has sued a cleaning company after a custodial worker switched off a super-cold freezer in a laboratory and destroyed decades of scientific research.

The Albany Times Union reports that according to the university, the worker’s action caused at least $1 million in damage.

The lawsuit says the freezer contained cell cultures, samples and other research elements that were stored at minus-112 degrees Fahrenheit. In September 2020, an employee of Daigle Cleaning Services turned off a circuit breaker. The temperature rose to minus-25.6 degrees Fahrenheit and resulted in the materials being damaged or destroyed.

The freezer shut down when the worker turned off a beeping alarm that he found to be annoying, the suit contends, despite the presence of a sign on the door to the lab's freezer explaining the source of the alarm, with instructions on how to mute it.

Lawyers say it will take an estimated $1 million to recreate the research, which explored photosynthesis and could affect solar-panel development.

Daigle had a $1.427 million contract for the 2020 fall semester to clean Rensselaer facilities including the Cogswell Building, a chemistry-biology research center.

A sign in bold print in capital letters was posted on the freezer door in the lab: “THIS FREEZER IS BEEPING AS IT IS UNDER REPAIR. PLEASE DO NOT MOVE OR UNPLUG IT. NO CLEANING REQUIRED IN THIS AREA. YOU CAN PRESS THE ALARM/TEST MUTE BUTTON FOR 5-10 SECONDS IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO MUTE THE SOUND.”

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