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article imageWeWork removes thousands of phone booths across US, Canada

By Karen Graham     Oct 15, 2019 in Business
WeWork, the office-sharing company that is trying to negotiate a financial lifeline, has a new problem that may prove costly. It has closed about 2,300 phone booths at some of its 223 sites in the US and Canada after detecting a cancer-causing chemical.
On September 9, WeWork cut its valuation for the second time in three days, bringing it down from $47 billion to below $20 billion over doubts about its prospects of making its market debut. Some investors had been pushing the company to postpone its IPO until 2020.
Now, the cash-strapped company has a new problem - The company says it began testing for formaldehyde after a tenant complained of eye irritation and a bad smell after using one of the booths, which are more like an enclosed cubicle, according to Reuters.
After testing, 1,600 phone booths were taken out of service due to "potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde," the company said in an email to tenants, which it calls members. The company has now removed an additional 700 booths.
But leaked emails obtained by Business Insider showed that tenants complained about noxious chemicals in the phone booths as early as August.
Xen Eldridge, a tenant of WeWork's Third Avenue location in Seattle, first sent an email to a WeWork community manager on August 29, concerned because he and his co-workers had been experiencing 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.
WeWork location in Burnaby  Canada.
WeWork location in Burnaby, Canada.
WeWork
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the symptoms described by Eldridge are consistent with the symptoms of exposure to formaldehyde, a toxic chemical used in construction and home goods that can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation.
While WeWork quickly acknowledged Eldridge's complaint, and emails show that a WeWork community manager did respond to Eldridge the same day, nothing was actually done until last Friday. At that time, WeWork staff turned up at the office to instruct tenants not to use the phone booths and signs saying "Caution: Do not use" were placed in them.
Those signs were replaced on Monday with a more specific warning about formaldehyde: "Danger: Formaldehyde may cause cancer, causes skin, eye, and respiratory irritation."
In a statement, WeWork said: “The safety and well-being of our members is our top priority and we are working to remedy this situation as quickly as possible."
While We Work declined to discuss the costs of testing and removal of the offending cubicles, the added costs won't help their financial position. It is currently in talks for a multi-billion dollar rescue deal that could lead to its largest shareholder, Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. taking control of the company.
More about wework, phone booths, us and canada, Formaldehyde, leaked emails
 
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