WeWork, the latest tech darling turned venture-funded flameout, sure looks like a walking corpse. Now, thanks to 1,600 potentially formaldehyde-tainted phone booths, many of its offices reportedly have the odor to match.
After years of coasting as a unicorn, the tech-y real-estate company shambled toward the public market with an unearned valuation in 2019 and investors finally balked. Its IPO was cancelled. Its bizarre (even by start-up standards) CEO voluntarily stepped down. The company is now so close to running out of money that banks and its major investor have prepped separate bail-out packages.
Any one of those red flags should be enough for investors—or hell, even potential tenants—not to touch WeWork with a 10-foot pole. But if you somehow missed the message, the company helpfully announced today that 1,600 phone booths are being removed from the company’s co-working spaces in the U.S. and Canada due to “potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde.”
Formaldehyde, you’ll recall, is a carcinogen used in the creation of particle board and other cheap composite lumber. It’s also an embalming agent.
According to Business Insider, WeWork sent out emails informing tenants at impacted locations Monday morning, noting that it had received complaints of “odor and eye irritation.” After commissioning outside testing, the company apparently decided the phone booths should join the other extraneous, potentially harmful parts of its business—a private jet, a preschool, a fitness club—it’s rapidly trying to divest.
“The safety and well-being of our members is our top priority, and we are working to remedy this situation as quickly as possible. After a member informed us of odor and eye irritation, WeWork performed an analysis, including having an outside consultant conduct a series of tests on a sampling of phone booths. Upon receiving results late last week, we began to take all potentially impacted phone booths out of service,” a WeWork spokesperson told Gizmodo via email. “Out of an abundance of caution, we are also taking approximately 700 additional phone booths out of service while we conduct more testing.”
Almost anyone who set foot inside a WeWork should’ve been able to smell that something was off. Those who resisted speculation turned out to be much more observant than they could’ve imagined.
Updated with comment from WeWork