Robots WeWork says thousands of its phone booths could have dangerous levels of formaldehyde after people complained about odor and eye irritation


  • WeWork warned tenants that it found “potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde” in phone booths in its locations in the US and Canada.
  • The office-sharing company is pulling thousands of phone booths out of service, it said in an email to tenants on Monday morning.
  • WeWork said it was responding to complaints of “odor and eye irritation.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

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, said WeWork was pulling 1,600 phone booths from locations that “may be impacted,” in addition to 700 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 high levels of the chemical, they can experience eye, nose, and throat irritation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

WeWork said in the email that it had received some complaints of “odor and eye irritation.”

In a statement to Business Insider, a WeWork representative 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.

Read more: Here’s everything we know about WeWork exec exits, huge layoffs, and more as the co-working giant looks to right itself after a failed IPO

One WeWork tenant told Business Insider she noticed a pungent smell in the phone booths at WeWork’s Rosslyn location in Arlington, Virginia.

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“I always noticed, from the first time I entered a phone booth, a strong chemical odor,” the tenant said in a Twitter DM. “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 on Monday morning.

—Barry Graubart (@graubart) October 14, 2019

The high levels of formaldehyde were caused by the manufacturer of the phone booths, the WeWork representative said.

This is the latest incident for WeWork after a difficult few months. The company faced crushing scrutiny after the paperwork it filed in August for an initial public offering showed a questionable path to profitability. And reports detailed the bizarre workplace antics of CEO Adam Neumann, like serving employees tequila shots after discussing layoffs and smoking weed on a company jet.

WeWork and Neumann lost the support of investors in the month that followed, and the company’s valuation dropped by more than 50%. 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.

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