You might think of them as supermen, sulphur miners at the Ijen volcano. True, they are astonishingly strong and brave. A working permit determines the number of miners, but about 25.000 kg is harvested daily at the most acidic lake in the world.
Supermen... as a lot of bravery is needed to mine the sulfur
Miners hack chunks off from solid sulfur stones at the end of the ceramic pipes. They use steel bars, braving extremely dangerous gasses and liquids with minimal protection. In the irritating and corrosive atmosphere of the crater, their only protection is a piece of fabric used for covering their mouths and noses. Because of that, they are susceptible to numerous respiratory complaints. After chunking of the sulfur stones, the miners carry the sulfur in baskets to the crater rim, approximately 200 meters above, before being carried several kilometers down the mountain.
Working permit for miners at the Ijen volcano
'I got this job because of my parents in law', tells a miner who is resting at the weighing point down the hill. 'I married a girl from the village Licin. My father in law also worked as miner.' Licin is the village where the sulfur factory is located. 'For my father in law the work was even heavier, since he had to carry the sulfur all the way to Licin, about 15 kilometers further down.'
'Not everybody can work here', continues the miner as he shows his "working permit". It is a piece of paper on which the name of the miner is written. On the back he collects stamps for the days he has been working and got paid according to his loads. Without a "working permit" a miner doesn't get paid. This in order to keep the amount of people working at the volcano under control. The miners are paid by the weight of sulfur transported. As of May 2011 the typical daily earnings were equivalent to approximately € 8.50.
Sulfur loads up to 100 kg, or daily about 5 trucks with 5 ton sulfur
Miners carry loads from 45 to 100 kg (100 - 200 lbs). After reaching the crater rim they bring the load more than three kilometers down the hill - with an average incline of 17% - to the weighing station. A single miner might make as many as two or three trips per day. The physical toll of carrying the heavy load is visible in the compressed skin and muscles of a miner's back as he carries a load of sulfur.
After weighing, the miner unloads his basket in a truck. Trucks drive back and forth, each carrying approximately 5.5 ton of sulfur to the factory in Licin. Each day, four to five trucks unload at the factory. All together, the miners transport about 23.000 to 26.000 kg daily. The sulfur is shuffled out of the truck by hand. Then, the contaminated sulfur is - also by hand - scooped into a stove. Daily 15 cubic meters of fuel wood is used in the factory.
Industrial exploitation of the lake has not been planned so far, as the volcano erupts from time to time. It can project acid to the height of 600 m (2,000 ft) and splashing the neighboring areas with a corrosive rain. In 1976, 50 people were surprised inside the crater by an enormous bubble of sulfuric dioxide. As a result the surface of the lake raised and killed 11 of them by suffocation. The local people said it was the sacrifice asked by the volcano for offering its riches.