Archive for the ‘Maple Syrup’ Category

From Wes Kinney to me (after I confronted him directly about the high levels of lead in our syrup from the sap collection buckets he sold us and sent him a copy of the letter I mailed to MOFGA and the Maine Maple Producers Association):

Dear Tom,

I continue to think about our little conundrum.

After talking with Suzanne it became obvious that she could only talk about the test results on that day with whatever was presented to her. There are many questions that may be considered.

My feeling at the moment is that we both probably over reacted.  I will try to get together enough information or something in an attempt to palliate for both of us.

In the mean time, Kathy Hopkins from the Extension Service e-mailed a glimpse of one paper from Proctor Laboratory in Vermont.  Maine has never done much meaningful for maple syrup research. Kathy is attempting to change this.  She didn’t elaborate much specifically on lead other than to acknowledge that it is an area of concern and a problem that is being phased out with new materials and handling techniques in which we both are well versed.

I think Gwen would be willing to work with you on another system and take the old buckets back in trade.

We used to tap 1200 trees in our orchard in Auburn and every spring, after the frozen sap did its damage, we went through the ritual of soldering the “leakers”.  This was 30 years ago and I usually got the job.  I will say “that” one soldered bucket didn’t look very professionally done.  Back in those days lead based solder and galvanized containers were not considered to be a problem when handling cool or cold liquids.  Boiling sap in galvanized pans was done but not recommended because of the well known fact lead is soluble in hot water and it was considered incvonclusive as to the significance of the problem as all galvanized coating did not seem to react in the same way and the length of time in the container was an important factor.

To resolve this matter, Gwen offers to exchange the buckets for 25 Sap Sack holders and 30 Sap Sacks or 10 plastic sap buckets, with covers and spouts.


Wes Kinney

My response to Kinney:

Here is another good reference about lead in syrup, from U. Maine:

As I mentioned to you in person, and contrary to what you claimed during our discussion, both references state that maple sap itself does not contain lead (“Lead does not come from trees” according to U.Maine), so the lead must originate from equipment that is used during the process of sap collection or evaporation.  We use entirely lead-free, new stainless steel cookware to evaporate the sap, and we use plastic brewing buckets to store it before evaporating, so the lead definitely comes from either the taps or buckets that we purchased from you.

The above U. Maine reference also states that “Lead containing buckets begin to leach lead into sap within the first few hours, and continue to add lead to sap as long as it is in contact with metal surfaces” regardless of the temperature of the buckets or the sap. It is certainly possible that a small handful of the buckets could have been the primary culprits.  Unfortunately, to ascertain this would require testing each bucket separately, which I’m sure none of us wants to do.

Finally, I still respectfully request that you make every effort to inform your clients that some of the used metal buckets you are selling contain lead soldering which may cause high lead levels in syrup.  Again, I’d like to emphasize that I have no problem with you selling the equipment as long as you make the effort to inform and educate people about its potential drawbacks and safety hazards.  High levels of lead have been shown to impair cognitive development in children, in addition to causing irreversible neurological damage, renal (kidney) disease, cardiovascular problems such as anemia, and reproductive toxicity.  The safe lead levels for maple syrup are based upon levels considered safe for consumption by young children, and so are probably conservative for grown adults.  However, these levels don’t account for the quantity of syrup consumed, which is important to consider since heavy metals like lead tend to accumulate in the body and chronic exposure to tainted syrup increases blood levels of lead.


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Proof that direct action and assertive confrontation work:

We sent the following letter (below) to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and the Maine Maple Producers Association last spring, in addition to the maple producer (Kinney Maple) who sold us the contaminated sap collection equipment.  The farmer at Kinney Maple was quite upset at this exposure of their practice of selling old, used equipment to homesteaders and small family farmers;  equipment which Kinney Maple themselves cannot legally utilize in their own commercial operation due to lead-testing standards for maple syrup.  Our main concern was not the fact they were selling this equipment, but rather that they were (deliberately?) neglecting to inform their clients of the hazards the equipment posed, failing to mention to customers that many of the used buckets had been repaired with lead soldering which could leach into the maple sap and contaminate the syrup if the buckets are not properly lined.

In an either desperate or ignorant and ill-informed attempt to defend his practice, the farmer first claimed, incorrectly, that lead does not leach from the buckets into cold sap but rather has to be heated in order to contaminate the syrup.  Therefore, the source of contamination for our syrup must have been our evaporator set-up, which is highly unlikely since our evaporator pans are stainless steel cookware and our sap is stored in food-grade plastic buckets prior to evaporating.  Later, he speculated erroneously that perhaps our maple trees were producing the lead in our sap, which is biologically impossible.  Both of the assertions he made to defend himself are false, according to the University of Maine (http://www.umext.maine.edu/onlinepubs/htmpubs/7038.htm).

Regardless, we received a very positive and pro-active response from the Maine Maple Producers Association, who outlined in detail the efforts they would make to educate their members about the issue of lead in maple sugaring equipment.  Most importantly, Kinney Maple stopped selling their used buckets at the MOFGA Common Ground Fair this year.  Instead, they were selling food-grade plastic buckets and stainless steel buckets with “Lead-Free” stamps on them.  It’s good to know that rocking the boat sometimes wakes the captain up when his ship and crew are carelessly drifting towards rocky cliffs.

19 March 2009

Dear MOFGA and Maine Maple Producers Association,

A year ago, my wife and I purchased two-dozen used maple sap collection buckets from Kinney Maple Supplies in order to begin our own maple sugar operation on our small family farm. Several months later, I learned about the problem of lead in maple syrup, of which I had been previously unaware. Concerned that our syrup might be contaminated with lead, we called Kinney Maple Supplies for more information. Kinney Maple assured us that the used buckets they sold to us were safe, despite their claims that they had not actually tested syrup from these buckets for lead content.

My wife and I sent a sample of our 2008 maple syrup to the University of Maine Analytical Lab and learned that the lead levels were 1.75 ppm, which is several times higher than the recommended safe level (0.50 ppm in Maine). The scientists at the lab discussed the lead levels with us, as well as our equipment, and suggested that the lead most likely originated from the solder of the buckets. This year (2009), we decided to test whether the buckets were the source of the lead in our syrup. We lined our buckets with food grade plastic bags and proceeded to collect sap and evaporate it in the exact same manner as 2008, using the same stainless steel cooking pans as our evaporators. We recently sent a sample of our 2009 syrup to the Analytical Lab. The test results indicated a lead level of < 0.20 ppm, or nearly eight times lower than before and well below the recommended safe levels. Both years’ test results are attached.

The results of our maple syrup lead tests before and after using plastic bags to line the buckets indicate to us that the used maple buckets Kinney Maple Supplies is selling are leaching unsafe levels of lead into maple sap, and potentially contaminating the syrup of any of their customers who have been utilizing these buckets. Since no other artificial variable in our syrup production operation was altered between our 2008 and 2009 samples, we are confident that the very high levels of lead in our 2008 syrup can be attributed only to Kinney Maple’s buckets.

We have spoken directly with Kinney Maple regarding our concerns that they are selling an unsafe product. I asked that they either discontinue selling the buckets, knowing that they produce syrup with unsafe lead levels, or in the very least issue warnings to their customers so that they may take steps to mitigate the lead levels. We are especially disconcerted by the knowledge that close family friends of ours have been producing maple syrup for years using buckets they purchased from Kinney Maple and feeding it to their young children, in the age group that is particularly vulnerable to lead toxicity. We have since informed our friends of this concern, but wonder how many other families in Maine may unknowingly be producing contaminated syrup, and how many maple producers may be selling unsafe sap collection products.

We hope that the Maine Maple Producers Association and MOFGA will take steps to educate both maple producers and consumers of the potential dangers posed by maple buckets or evaporators with unsafe lead levels. We also hope that you will take steps to require maple producers and vendors of maple sugaring equipment to inform consumers of the potential dangers associated with using equipment that contains lead soldering. Although commercial producers may be required to test their syrup for lead levels, residential producers of maple syrup are not. We feel that it is unconscionable for commercial maple producers to sell equipment to small, family-scale maple producers that would not pass the same stringent safety requirements the commercial producers themselves must adhere to.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.

Thank you.

Thomas H. Young
Alia W. Al-Humaidhi

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