Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during his Bernie's Big New Year's Bash, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. Credit: Charlie Neibergall | AP

CONCORD, N.H. — Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said Tuesday that he would enact federal drinking water standards for a group of toxic chemicals that have caused widespread contamination in New Hampshire and other states.

New Hampshire recently set some of the nation’s toughest standards for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, collectively called PFAS, but a judge temporarily blocked enforcement in November after chemical company 3M sued. The New Hampshire standard limits one chemical to a maximum of 12 parts per trillion and another to 15 parts per trillion, far lower than the 70 parts per trillion the Environmental Protection Agency has advised for the chemicals.

Sanders, a Vermont senator, said instead of spending millions on lawsuits to gut clean water rules, such companies should be paying to clean up contamination. He said as president, he will create national clean water standards for PFAS and other chemicals in an effort to guarantee clean drinking water “as a human right.”

“Corporate greed is threatening one of the most basic necessities of life: clean water,” he said in a statement. “Not only will we support state efforts to enforce stronger clean water laws, we are going to create federal clean water standards that force these companies to clean up their mess.”

More than 700 homes in New Hampshire whose drinking water was contaminated by PFAS have been connected to new water, and the state estimates that more than 100,000 other people eventually could be affected. The contamination is the result of the chemicals leaking into groundwater from industrial facilities, as well as a former Air Force base.

Studies have found potential links between high levels in the body of one form of the contaminants and a range of illnesses, including kidney cancer, increased cholesterol levels and problems in pregnancies.

3M Co., based in St. Paul, Minnesota, said in a statement Tuesday that it “supports appropriate science-based regulations of PFAS” and therefore backs “consideration of an enforceable, science-based national drinking water standard” for the toxic chemicals.

“A consistent and unified federal policy based on sound science can help avoid the confusion and uncertainty of a state-by-state patchwork of regulations,” the company said.