Mercury disaster on Guiding Light set

A minor emergency took place Thursday, when a blood pressure device dropped by a Guiding Light scene designer cracked open and spilled mercury onto the floor of the soap opera's Manhattan studio.

Shooting of a dramatic emergency-room scene was about to begin when the accident occurred, striking the fear of mercury poisoning into the hearts of cast and crew. "Our staged emergency turned into a real-life emergency," said executive producer Ellen Wheeler.

By the time the city's Department of Environmental Protection arrived to assess the situation, someone had already begun to clean up the spill. "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," said DEP spokesperson Ian Michaels, adding that such an attempt was "the wrong thing to do."

New York's Fire Department sent a hazardous-materials crew to the set, where they found raised levels of mercury in the air and evidence that someone had stepped in the spill and tracked it through another room. Once everyone involved had been tested for contamination and then sent home, the DEP imposed a 24-hour evacuation of the studio.

Upon returning for more tests this morning, DEP workers found "no detectable levels of mercury in the air." Production of the scene--in which Tammy vows to be faithful to the unconscious Sandy in spite of her attraction to her cousin Jonathan--was allowed to resume.

Although no injuries have been reported, Michaels reminded the Guiding Light cast and crew that mercury poisoning is insidious and that anyone who begins to feel ill after being exposed to the curious metal should see a doctor immediately. Symptoms of mercury poisoning can include tremors, irritability, exhaustion, and loss of short-term memory. Long-term exposure can damage a person's brain, nervous system, and kidneys.

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