Updated on 26 March: Questions and answers about the freezing incident and the ongoing investigation

The freezing incident in the Neo building at KI's Flemingsberg campus last Christmas raises many questions. Some of them are answered here. As new facts can be presented, questions and answers will be developed and supplemented.

What has happened?

There was a freezer malfunction at the Neo building on KI South’s Flemingsberg campus during the Christmas period. 

For reasons unknown, the automatic refiling of the cryo tanks with liquid nitrogen was interrupted, causing a rise in temperature in 16 of the 19 tanks and the destruction of large amounts of the biological research material they contained.

Questions updated 260324

Update 240326: The investigation will be presented in mid-April 2024 [previously indicated date was tentatively around 1 March, this was updated to the end of March 240311].

The finalisation of the report has been further postponed to give the investigation team the requested time. In mid-April, the report will be presented to employees, management and other authorities, including IVO. 

The work of the external review group will then begin.

Questions updated 230224

It seems now that the central supply of liquid nitrogen broke down. 

The forthcoming report will explain this is more detail. 

Yes, that wasn’t the only one.

Cont. Will the team also be analysing and reporting on other relevant circumstances, such as internal agreements on maintenance and operation, external agreements and the division of responsibilities?  

Yes, the investigative team will be looking at, analysing and reporting on all agreements between the companies that manage the facilities and the KI management, Facilities Office, operations team and Neo’s steering group, researchers and staff. 

The investigation will also be getting to the bottom of who was responsible for what, the procedural circumstances and other factors that could have contributed to the incident. 

The affected research groups have made full lists of their losses, which have been combined into an inventory that also covers the related research grants, the repercussions on these grants, collaborating partners, whether the lost material can be repurchased, etc.

The investigation includes an ongoing weekly dialogue with the Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency (Kammarkollegiet), which insures Karolinska Institutet’s operations and where KI has lodged a claim for damages. 

The Agency will be basing its decision regarding compensation on the investigation team’s report. 

Decisions on other matters of compensation and the like will have to wait for the results of the investigation and review.

The principal aim of the investigation is to find out what happened and why.

The report’s findings will first be presented to the KI South management and staff and the KI central management. The exact date of these presentations has not yet been set. 

The contents of the report will then be communicated to the rest of the organisation in different ways, including on the staff portal.

The external review group will have access to all and any material it requests. 

When it’s completed, but only insofar as it is non-confidential.

Questions updated 090224

The cryo tanks contained more than 50,000 samples collected over two decades or so, including cell lines and biological material from an estimated 6,000 individuals. 

The samples constituted research material and their destruction does not affect the care and treatment of patients.

The exact scale of the damage will be known once the research groups that kept material in the freezers have completed their inventory and compiled a full list of their contents.

We don’t yet know the full value of what has been damaged. This is still being investigated. 

It’s currently hard to know what the insurance will cover. It depends to some extent on what the investigation finds. 

That will depend on what the investigation finds.

The mission of the accident investigation is to:

  • Investigate the technical and other reasons why the nitrogen supply stopped.
  • There are technical and organisational reasons why the alarm failed/was not successful/led to action.

The accident investigation must analyse the factors that led to the accident, including its underlying causes and the extent and consequences of the accident.

All aspects of the work will be characterised by the participation of the researchers and operations concerned. An external review group will be used for independent review and representatives of Region Stockholm will be involved where necessary.

The goal of the accident investigation is to determine the root causes of the incident and how it could happen. The overall goal is to create a safe and robust freezing infrastructure at KI with a clear division of responsibilities internally and with external parties and suppliers, including the region.

The focus throughout the process is on learning from the incident and identifying safe procedures, structures and systems for the future.

Internal and external experts, divided into an incident steering team/team and a technical analysis team. 

KI’s head of security, an external consultant and one of KI’s facility managers have brought in people with the relevant competence.  

The university management, the Dean of KI South and the affected researchers have also appointed members of the two teams. 

In order to build up a clear picture of a complex incident, the investigators will be using a combination of methods, including incident analyses, technical analyses and interviews. 

The first stage of the investigation involved assessing the immediate impact of the incident and what needed to be done. The focus now is on explaining how and why it happened. 

Firstly, they secured all logs and evidence and had the facility examined to make sure it is operational. 

One of the emergency measures was to appoint a warden, who performs two inspection rounds of the site every 24 hours.

Immediately after the incident was reported on 27 December, facility managers started to handle the incident.

At this emergency stage, the priority was to take the necessary steps to save some of the freezers. 

KI’s head of security immediately assumed overall responsibility for the investigation after New Year. 

The investigation is fully underway, paying consideration to two factors that have affected the planning process: 

1. To make the relevant suppliers prioritise KI’s investigation and check that the facility is operational. 

2. To respect the requests of the affected researchers regarding members of the investigative team. New members have arrived on various occasions and have needed time to read up on the incident and familiarise themselves with the available facts.  

The thorough analysis of logs and evidence that has so far been made gives no indication of sabotage.

The question of the alarm’s functionality will be thoroughly investigated.

Yes. A KI employee reported it on 29 January. The police have received a report but have decided to hold off on a preliminary investigation until KI’s own investigation has been completed. 

The aim of the investigation is to identify secure procedures and systems for the future. It is this we must learn from. The aim is not to find scapegoats.

The external experts are free to visit the facility and talk to the staff, suppliers and whoever else they consider pertinent to the investigation and will be writing their own reports. 

KI will have these reports compiled in a summary document, which will inform the measures to be taken for ensuring that KI’s procedures and systems are safe and secure. 

The KI management and the Dean of KI South and its heads of department have decided to appoint an external and independent review group consisting of three to five national and international experts to monitor the investigation. 

These experts will have access to all investigative material and be writing an independent report in order to quality-assure the work that has been done and make sure that every significant aspect has been identified and reviewed. 

The Dean and heads of department have sent out several information emails and will continue to send out regular updates with information from their dialogue with the investigative team and other affected parties. 

A number of dialogue meetings have been held for staff/researchers, investigators and other affected parties and more are planned.

Information about the freezer malfunction and the ongoing investigation will be posted on the KI Staff Portal. 

Sources: The Security Unity, the Communications and Public Relations Office, affected departments, the Facilities Office and KI Management.