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Shepherdstown man probes industrial accidents

April 14, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - At one moment, John Bresland can be sitting comfortably in his Cress Creek home watching songbirds at feeders behind his house.

The next might find him as far away as Texas investigating an oil refinery fire.

Bresland is a member of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, a federal agency that looks into the worst industrial accidents in the country.

There can be hundreds of such accidents in the United States every year, but Bresland's agency typically only looks at the worst.

Because it is small, the agency -- also referred to as the U.S. Chemical Safety Board -- usually only chooses eight to 12 accidents a year to investigate, Bresland said.

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Bresland often travels across the country to accident scenes, like he did in March 2005 to help investigate a massive explosion and fire that erupted at a Texas City, Texas, oil refinery.

The explosion killed 15 people and injured more than 170.

"I was there the day after it happened," Bresland said.

Bresland said the U.S. Chemical Safety Board operates similar to the National Transportation Safety Board, which often investigates accidents involving aircraft or trains. But the U.S. Chemical Safety Board focuses on incidents like gas releases and chemical spills.

Bresland was involved in writing recommendations for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to prevent dust explosions in factories. The recommendations were made in 2006.

Then in February, a dust explosion occurred at a sugar refinery in Savannah, Ga., that killed 13 people.

"I'm going down there in a couple weeks to see it," Bresland said.

Bresland was born in Northern Ireland and graduated from Londonderry Technical College in Northern Ireland and Salford University in England, specializing in chemistry.

In the United States, Bresland worked for Honeywell International Inc. for 34 years, working at chemical industry jobs in engineering, environmental compliance and project management up and down the East Coast.

Bresland has been on the U.S. Chemical Safety Board for five years and last July he was nominated to be chairman of the agency. That requires approval from Congress, which occurred in March, Bresland said.

Bresland said he and his wife, Beth, lived in Washington, D.C., and would come to Shepherdstown for the Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University. They liked the area and decided to buy a home in Cress Creek about a year ago.

"No regrets at all. We like it out here a lot," Bresland said.

Bresland and his wife also have an apartment in Washington, D.C., and they stay in Washington during the week while he handles his U.S. Chemical Safety Board duties and his wife works at a hospital.

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