WeWork Says Thousands of Its Phone Booths Could Have Dangerous Levels of Formaldehyde After People Complained About Odor and Eye Irritation
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WeWork tenants received an email Monday morning informing them of "potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde" in phone booths throughout WeWork offices in the US and Canada.
The email, obtained by Business Insider, states that WeWork is in the process of pulling 1,600 phone booths from WeWork's locations that "may be impacted," in addition to 700 phone booths that have yet to be tested for formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is a toxic chemical used primarily as a sealing agent in particleboard and wood products. When people are exposed to excessive levels of the chemical, they can experience eye, nose, and throat irritation, according to the EPA.
WeWork warned its tenants of the risk of formaldehyde in phone booths after some people complained of "odor and eye irritation," the email said.
In a statement to Business Insider, a WeWork spokesperson confirmed the contents of the email and said WeWork took action to remove the phone booths as soon as tests for high levels of formaldehyde came back positive late last week.
Colleen Wong, a director with the Global Entrepreneurship Network, said she noticed a pungent smell in the phone booths at WeWork's Rosslyn location in Arlington, Virginia, where she's a tenant.
"I always noticed, from the first time I entered a phone booth, a strong chemical odor," Wong told Business Insider in a Twitter direct message. "I assumed it was a new building / equipment type smell. Kind of like glue or a new car."
Other WeWork tenants voiced exasperation on Twitter Monday morning.
The high levels of formaldehyde were caused by the manufacturer of the phone booths, according to the WeWork spokesperson.
This is the latest incident after a difficult few months for WeWork. The company faced crushing scrutiny after filing its initial public offering paperwork in August, which showed a questionable path to profitability. Meanwhile, then-CEO Adam Neumann came under fire for bizarre workplace antics like serving employees tequila shots after discussing layoffs and smoking weed on a company jet.
WeWork and Neumann began to lose the support of investors in the month that followed, causing the company's valuation to drop by more than 50 percent. WeWork delayed its IPO on September 17 and Neumann stepped down on September 24.
The company is now reportedly looking for a line of credit, and could run out of cash next month without it.