A Tennessee state official reportedly told residents who were concerned about dirty drinking water that complaining about water quality could be considered "an act of terrorism."
The controversial comment was made by Sherwin Smith, the deputy director of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's (TDEC) Division Of Water Resources, during a May 29 meeting organized by Tennessee state Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia).
"You need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have basis," Smith said, according to audio obtained by Statewide Organizing For Community eMpowerment (SOCM), a Knoxville-based civic action group. "Because federally, if there's no water quality issues, that can be considered, under Homeland Security, an act of terrorism."
The comments came during a discussion over poor water quality in Tennessee's Maury County, where residents have said people have gotten sick from drinking the water.
In January, the town of Mt. Pleasant, Tenn. issued a "boil water" notice to residents due to health risks posed by bacteria in the water, Bobby Nutt, the town's public works director, told The Columbia Daily Herald at the time.
Meg Lockhart, a spokeswoman for the state environmental agency, said it was looking into Smith's comments.
“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,” Lockhart said, according to The Tennessean.
As written in the Code of Laws of the United States, terrorism is "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets."