- WeWork informed tenants on 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 showed 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 having 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 on 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 "potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde."
But for others, the announcement was overdue. Some tenants notified WeWork about 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 Third 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 appeared 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 Environmental Protection Agency.
WeWork quickly acknowledged Eldridge's complaint. Emails viewed by Business Insider showed 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 community manager to add that they too had experienced the same side effects from using the phone booths, as had others in the office.
But Eldridge said there was no visible action by WeWork until Friday, when WeWork staff turned up at the office to instruct tenants not to use the phone booths and when signs saying "Caution: Do not use" were placed in them.
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."
Another tenant of the Seattle WeWork, who requested anonymity to speak openly, confirmed Eldridge's telling of events and described experiencing firsthand eye irritation after using phone booths beginning in July.
A WeWork representative declined to comment.
Earlier on Monday, a representative said that the high levels of formaldehyde were caused by the manufacturer of the phone booths and that WeWork had taken action to remove phone booths after tests for formaldehyde came back positive last week.
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