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Tennessee Official Says Complaining About Water Quality Could Be Considered 'Act of Terrorism'

The claim was made during a meeting with residents who say the "cloudy, odd-tasting water" is making their children sick.
 
 
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A representative for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation told a group of concerned citizens that complaining about water quality could be considered an “act of terrorism,” The Tennessean reports.

Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, made the claim during a meeting with residents of Maury County, Tennessee. Organized by State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, the gathering sought to address complaints by residents that area water was making their children sick. In audio obtained by The Tennessean, Smith can be heard equating water quality complaints, an act of citizenry, with DHS-defined acts of terrorism:

We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously … But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.

According to The Tennessean, several residents saw the statement as “an attempt to silence complaints.” One 68-year-old woman who says she “prays” before sipping the “cloudy, odd-tasting water,” felt that Smith’s message was, “Leave us alone. Don’t come back anymore. We’re not going to continue on dealing with whatever problem you may have.” An official TDEC spokesperson says the department is investigating the matter:

In terms of the comments made by a member of the Water Resources Division at the meeting, we are just receiving the information and looking into this on our end … The department would like to fully assess what was said in the meeting. I am told that the meeting was far longer than the audio clip provided by SOCM and that Mr. Smith actually clarified his remarks. But again, we are looking into it.

At time of publication, the Department of Homeland Security could not be reached for comment.

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.