Tap water terrorism comments said by a Tennessee official have caused controversy and requests for clarification among residents of the state. A state official reportedly said at a meeting that the continued debate of citizens about the water quality could be considered "an act of terrorism" if there is no proof of water quality issues.
The tap water terrorism comments came during a May 29 meeting held by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for residents of Mount Pleasant, who had been complaining about the water quality for months. Denizens of the area had received boil notices twice in the past year, sometimes received cloudy water from the tap, and alleged that children had gotten sick because of the water.
"We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously," Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC's Division of Water Resources, said in a response that was audio recorded. "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."
After being asked to repeat his comments he obliged, restating that unfounded complaints represented terrorism.
"I took it as a threat. Like 'Shut up and go home. Be quiet,'" Dwight Green, a resident, told the Associated Press. "Some people are buying water. They're afraid to drink [the tap water]."
"I'll drink it," Joycelene Johns another Mount Pleasant resident, told USA Today. "But I pray before the first sip."
After the comments were released— Statewide Organizing For Community eMpowerment (SOCM), a Knoxville-based organization, recorded the comments at the meeting— the TDEC promised to look into Smith's comments. They also said they would test the water of any resident who had complaints.
"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," Meg Lockhart a spokeswoman for TDEC, told The Tennessean, adding that Smith regrets what he said.