SULFUR MINERS OF KAWAH IJEN
Kawah Ijen is one of the many volcanoes that dominate the landscape of East Java in the Indonesian archipelago. But Ijen is markedly different from the others—it is home to the largest acidic crater lake on Earth. The beautiful lake is the site of rich elemental sulfur, which 350-400 miners quarry manually each year. In an age when sulfur is a by-product of oil refining and mechanical extraction, Kawah Ijen remains the only labor-intensive sulfur mining operation in the world, where miners earn a living amid toxic sulfur fumes that expose them to a high risk of lung diseases.
Twice a day, they make a trip from the rim of the crater down to the lake and carry back 70-90 kilograms of sulfur on bamboo baskets up a nearly vertical path and down to the road some 5 kilometers from the lake. The payout for this double trip, which many would consider one of world’s toughest jobs, is about 12 USD.
Working day in and day out amid noxious hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide fumes (most miners work with little or no protective gear) leaves the miners with an average life expectancy of 35 years. In the last four decades, about six dozen miners have died due to sudden outbursts of poisonous gases in the crater.