For a few hours last week, the situation inside Guiding Light's Manhattan studio was for more dramatic than anything ever produced by a Friday cliffhanger. A hazardous-materials crew was called to the scene and the studio evacuated on Thursday, following the malfunction of a prop and the release of a toxic metal into air.
During the taping of an emergency room scene, a blood pressure device broke apart when it was dropped by a scene designer, spilling its load of toxic mercury onto the stage floor. There were no immediate injuries reported, but elevated levels of mercury were found in the air. The CBS studio, located at 222 East 44th Street, was ordered closed for at least 24 hours.
Mercury is a poisonous metal that can damage a person's brain, nervous system and kidneys. Exposure can cause tremors, irritability and memory loss.
Ian Michaels, of the city's Department of Environmental Protection, explained that in trying to clean up the mercury, show workers inadvertently made the situation worse... much worse.
"They had tried to clean it up with a brush and a piece of cardboard or something and they had put the mercury into a jar [which is] the wrong thing to do," Michaels explained. "The worst was that someone stepped in it and went into another room."
The show's crew and staff were examined for possible contamination and sent home. Michaels ordered that the show properly dispose of any items that came in contact with the mercury as well as the mercury itself. Typically a licensed crew would need to be hired to handle the environmental cleanup. The extra expense couldn't come at a worse time for the soap, which is already in the midst of a serious budget crunch.
The show was issued orders to properly dispose of the mercury and the brush and makeshift dustpan, which would probably mean a licensed cleanup crew would be hired, Michaels said.
"We think that given 24 hours the air level will come down, and as long as the disposal is done properly there should be no ill effects," he said.
By the following morning, "there [were] no detectable levels of mercury in the air," Michael revealed, and show reps presented paperwork that was consistent with the proper disposal of mercury. The show was then given the okay to resume taping.
A spokesperson for Guiding Light indicated that taping would "pick up where we left off," which was a scene in which Tammy pledges her devotion to Sandy despite her growing feelings of lust for her cousin, Jonathan. The episode marks the 14,764th episode of the series, the longest running dramatic program in the history of television.