- WeWork informed tenants Monday morning that it was removing thousands of phone booths from its offices because of “potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde.”
- But leaked emails obtained by Business Insider show that tenants complained about noxious chemicals in the phone booths as early as August.
- One tenant contacted a WeWork community manager in August to report that people were suffering from eye irritation, light-headedness, and nausea after using phone booths.
- WeWork tenants said the company did not tell them to avoid phone booths until October.
- WeWork declined to comment for this story.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Many tenants of WeWork were surprised Monday morning by the company’s announcement that it would remove thousands of phone booths from its offices across the US and Canada because of “elevated levels of formaldehyde.”
But for others, the announcement was overdue. That’s because some tenants notified WeWork of the presence of noxious chemicals in its offices’ phone booths as early as August, according to emails obtained by Business Insider.
Xen Eldridge, a tenant of WeWork’s 3rd Avenue location in Seattle, first sent an email to a WeWork community manager on August 29 to report that he and his coworkers were experiencing concerning side effects after spending time in the office’s phone booths.
“Many of my colleagues have reported that using the phone booths for any time longer than 20 minutes leads to their eyes stinging, feeling lightheaded, and/or nauseous. Some of us with more sensitive eyes notice this even sooner. This goes away more or less immediately after leaving the phone booth, or when the door is left open,” Eldridge wrote to the community manager.
Eldridge’s email in August appears to describe the symptoms of exposure to formaldehyde, a toxic chemical used in construction and home goods that can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, according to the EPA.
WeWork quickly acknowledged Eldridge’s complaint. Emails viewed by Business Insider show that a community manager responded to Eldridge the same day, saying that the company was consulting with its facilities team to fix the issue. At that time, one of Eldridge’s colleagues followed up with the same community manager to add that they, too, had experienced the same side effects from using phone booths, as had others in the office.
But according to Eldridge, there was no visible action taken by WeWork until October 11, when WeWork staff turned up at the office to instruct tenants not to use phone booths. At that time, signs were placed in phone booths stating “CAUTION: DO NOT USE.”
Those signs were replaced with an updated sign on Monday, Eldridge said, which included a more specific warning about formaldehyde: “DANGER: FORMALDEHYDE MAY CAUSE CANCER, CAUSES SKIN, EYE, AND RESPIRATORY IRRITATION.”
In addition to Eldridge, Business Insider spoke to another tenant of the Seattle WeWork who wished to remain anonymous in order to speak openly. That tenant confirmed Eldridge’s telling of events and described experiencing firsthand eye irritation after using phone booths beginning in July.
A WeWork spokesperson declined to comment. Earlier on Monday, a spokesperson said that the formaldehyde was caused by the distributor of the phone booths, and that WeWork had taken action to remove phone booths after tests for formaldehyde came back positive last week.
Do you work at WeWork and have a story to share? Contact this reporter at aholmes@BusinessInsider.com.