Brian Bush: PCBs and the Pine Bush Looking back at a legacy

If you are – or ever have been a regular at the Save the Pine Bush monthly dinners you probably knew Dr. Bush, my dad (he was the one who looked like Santa Claus but had an english accent). As some of you know he worked for the NYS Health Department, he was recruited in 1972 meaning he would have to move to the US from England. He spent almost 30 years not only researching PCBs, poly chlorinated biphenyls, but being at the forefront of the topic. One of his most controversial escapades was when he was unjustly expelled from his job in 1998 for political reasons and an accusation of incompetence by former Governor of New York George Pataki (R ). Dr. Bush was dragged through the mud by various media outlets in the Capital Region, which put his job in jeopardy. All of this was done to please General Electric who had a factory north of Schuylerville with which they dumped a horrific amount of PCBs in the Hudson River and refused to take responsibility for poisoning the river.

You’re probably wondering what Dr. Bush did wrong to invoke the wrath of the Pataki administration, well his crime was he published an exposé revealing the actual risks of PCBs. PCBs had been a known carcinogen since 1937, though Dr Bush’s research also found that it attacks the human nervous system causing minor health problems when subjects ingested it in small quantities, much like lead. Considering the PCBs originating from the GE factory on Thompson Island Pool wash over the dam in enormous quantities, equaling one metric ton per year, and evaporate into the air from the river mud – this seriously affected everyone who lived and worked in and around the Hudson River. According to GE at the time the PCBs would sink to the bottom of the river and would be harmless if left alone, this was obvious propaganda which Dr. Bush stated in 1998, not to mention the flagrant disregard for the food chain, bottom feeding aquatic fauna, and natural disasters that could wash the PCBs out of Thompson Island Pool which would’ve been a massive public health disaster.

Dr. Bush’s solution to the PCB problem was holding GE accountable for their mess and making them dredge the Hudson River, removing the contaminated mud from the river floor, which would cost GE half a billion dollars. Which is exactly what happened, in 2009. More than ten years after Dr. Bush made national headlines for his findings, GE began cleaning the river and the project was finally completed on April 11th 2019. The dredging resulted in a 96% drop in PCB sediment, a 78% drop in PCB levels in the water, and a 58% drop in PCBs levels in fish and birds whose habitats are on or in the Hudson River. Dr. Bush did not end up losing his job and retired a year later in 1999 when his fifth child was born (me).

Dr. Bush passed away on April 30th 2020, a little over a year after his project was completed and most of the PCBs were removed from the Hudson River. He was an excellent example of perseverance in times when it feels like all the odds are against you, which in this political climate is something to take inspiration from. The next time you drink tap water from the Hudson, enjoy a water based activity on the Hudson, or you are simply enjoying the atmosphere the river provides you, you have Dr. Bush to thank for the clean and safe conditions you are provided with.


I’m Dr. Bush’s daughter.

Published in July/August 2020
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