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| Burns, Cunningham & Mackey, P.C.

What if you feared that something was wrong with your local tap water? What if you thought that the water was making your children sick? Would you report your concerns to the appropriate governmental body in charge of the water supply?

Well, if you live in Tennessee – don’t.

Why? According to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), if TDEC considers your complaint lacks what it considers a proper basis, your actions “can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.”

The threat (what else can it be called?) was made by Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources at a town meeting where attendees recorded the comments. Smith openly proclaimed the TDEC’s position more than once when one stunned audience member asked him to repeat it – which he did.

But let’s back up. What caused the town hall meeting in the first place? That would be the matter of Maury County, Tennessee residents getting a letter from the water company, in January 2012, stating that the county’s drinking water did contain carcinogens but that the tainted water posed no immediate threat to customers. (What carcinogens do pose an immediate threat?)

TDEC’s message to Maury County residents is “Shut up and drink your cancer water!” My guess is that TDEC would also not take kindly to anyone raising the results of the recent Harvard study which showed that fluoridated water may adversely affect cognitive development in children.

Labeling citizens as terrorists for asking questions about the safety of public concerns like the water supply creates the ultimate “chilling effect” attack on not only free speech but public health.

I don’t know the legal basis of Sherwin Smith’s claim and the definition of “terrorist” under federal law as one who asks questions about the water supply may very well be hidden in the mountains of national security legislation passed since 9/11. But that doesn’t make right.

So as crazy as it may sound, before complaining about local water quality in your area, get a lawyer.

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