Office-sharing startup WeWork has closed about 2,300 phone booths at some of its 223 sites in the United States and Canada after discovering elevated levels of formaldehyde in the cubicles.
After a tenant complained of odor and eye irritation, WeWork began testing and based on the results took 1,600 phone booths out of service, the company said in an email to its tenants on Monday, Reuters reports.
An additional 700 booths are closed while more testing is conducted, the firm, which is trying to negotiate a financial lifeline after a botched initial public offering, was quoted as saying.
All the phone booths closed were installed over the past several months, 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,” it said in the statement.
WeWork, which abandoned plans for an IPO last month after investors questioned its mounting losses and the way it was being run, told its tenants in the email that the formaldehyde chemical could pose a cancer-risk if there is long-term exposure.
“Long-term exposure to formaldehyde, such as that experienced by workers in jobs who experience high concentrations over many years, has been associated with certain types of cancers,” it said.
The company declined to identify the manufacturer of the phone booths, Reuters said.
In 1987, the US Environmental Protection Agency classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure.
Some studies since then suggested that formaldehyde exposure is associated with certain types of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Phone booths are popular in WeWork’s open-plan offices as they provide privacy and noise reduction.
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