NASHVILLE (AP) — A state water official told members of a Tennessee environmental group that their water quality complaints could be considered an act of terrorism.
The comments came at a meeting between Department of Environment and Conservation officials and Mount Pleasant residents who are members of Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment.
In an audio recording provided by the environmental group, TDEC Deputy Director of the Division of Water Resources Sherwin Smith says, “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.”
TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said in a written response to questions that Smith regrets his choice of words.
“The department is working to address this issue, and to provide broader customer service training for all employees,” Lockhart wrote.
Mount Pleasant resident Dwight Green was at the May 29 meeting and he said he was shocked by the comments.
“I took it as a threat. Like ‘Shut up and go home. Be quiet,’” he said.
Green said residents are concerned about the quality of the local drinking water because it is sometimes cloudy and they have had two boil water notices in the past year or so.
“Some people are buying water. They’re afraid to drink it,” he said.
Lockhart said in an email that the department has tested the drinking water in Mount Pleasant and believes that it is safe, but TDEC is willing to test the water of any resident who has a complaint.
“This will help us identify any issue that may exist, or help ease fears for people if the sampling is consistent with the sampling from the plant and indicates the drinking water is safe.”
Green said he also is upset by the sewer rates, which he said increased dramatically last year after the city invested in a new water treatment plant.
“My bill went like from $38 to almost $100, and I live alone. Some people are paying more,” he said.