Leaked messages show WeWork employees internally discussing the toxic phone booth problem in July — and a pregnant tenant is furious

  • Earlier this month WeWork said it was removing 1,600 phone booths from locations across the US and Canada after it discovered they had "potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde."
  • But questions remain as to when WeWork first became aware that the phone booths were experiencing problems.
  • Leaked internal messages obtained by Business Insider show that some community managers in New York began discussing the problem in late July.
  • A pregnant tenant of WeWork who used the phone booths for hours each workday tells Business Insider that she's angry and afraid.
  • Read all of Business Insider's WeWork coverage here.

Earlier this month, WeWork told some of its tenants that it was removing thousands of phone booths from its offices across the US and Canada because of "potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde."

But questions remain as to when WeWork first became aware that the phone booths were experiencing problems.

Business Insider has learned that community managers began discussing the situation at the end of July, earlier than even the previous timeframe reported by Business Insider, and indicating that problems with the phone booths were discussed internally for more than two months before WeWork took action to remove them and inform its tenants.

On July 31, a community lead in New York took to one of the company's Slack channels to ask if buildings were experiencing "off-gassing" and a "smell of chemicals" in phone booths after their locations opened, and asked what they have told tenants about the situation, according to the messages seen by Business Insider.

Over the course of the next few days, into early August, a handful of community managers responded to the question. One community manager was not aware of the situation. That person worked in a building that opened in 2018.

But another, who reportedly joined the company in March at a newer building in Midtown Manhattan, said that the fumes "has been a major issue for us."

wework phone booth
WeWork placed warning signs on the phone booths at a Seattle WeWork location
Xen Eldridge

Maureen Surkein, a tenant of WeWork's Victory Park location in Dallas, says she regularly spent up to three hours per day in phone booths there conducting meetings or taking lunch breaks before she learned of the formaldehyde risk on Monday.

Surkein is 18 weeks pregnant, and is now afraid that she could experience side effects — according to the CDC, exposure to formaldehyde can trigger a miscarriage. Surkein said she plans to pursue legal action against WeWork if she experiences problems with her pregnancy.

"I am very angry that I and my unborn child may have been exposed to this chemical. Honestly, how dare they not take this issue more seriously," Surkein wrote in an email to Business Insider. "It honestly makes me scared to come into work."

WeWork declined comment. However, in an email sent to its tenants on Monday warning them about the situation, the company advised them to seek medical treatment if they believe they've been affected by formaldehyde. In that email, obtained by Business Insider, WeWork said it was removing 1,600 phone booths from various locations in addition to 700 booths that have yet to be tested for formaldehyde.

wework 2
Xen Eldridge

As we previously reported, some tenants at other New York buildings notified WeWork about noxious chemicals in its offices' phone booths as early as August, according to emails obtained by Business Insider.

And a tenant of the Seattle WeWork described to Business Insider experiencing eye irritation after using phone booths beginning in July.

WeWork declined to comment on the Slack messages. A WeWork representative previously told Business Insider that WeWork took action to remove the phone booths as soon as tests for high levels of formaldehyde came back positive late last week.

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