The sulfur mine near the Kawah Ijen volcano, on the island of Java, Indonesia, has been active since 1968. It employs about 300 miners who face excruciating heat, toxic fumes, and huge loads in exchange for about five dollars a trip. The mine produces 14 tons of sulfur per day, which is mainly exported to China and Southeast Asia.
Sulfur mining has taken place at Kawah Ijen since 1968. The volcano is famous for the striking blue glow it emits from the combustion of sulfuric gases. As the burning gases cool, they deposit sulfur around the volcano’s crater lake.
Mining companies have sped up this natural process by installing ceramic pipes on an active gas vent near the lake. The pipes route the gas down the mountain and condense it into liquid sulfur, which then drips and solidifies on hard sulfur mats. This solid sulfur is what the miners break up and pack out.
In their search for “devil’s gold,” as they call it, about 300 miners make a daily climb two miles up the mountain, then head downward more than 900 yards into the volcano, where the sulfur crystals form. Most work without any protection in darkness and stifling heat—all the while breathing sulfurous gas that burns their lungs and makes tears stream from their eyes.
To retrieve the sulfur, they attack it with a metal pole to break it into slabs, then make the reverse journey bearing reed baskets that weigh 150 to 200 pounds. All this for about five dollars a day—ten if they’re able to do it twice.