Escaping volcanic gasses are channeled through a network of ceramic pipes, resulting in condensation of molten sulfur. This sulphur trickles out of the end of the pipes, solidifying nearby as it cools further. The miners then break up the sulphur deposits and carry them out of the crater to a nearby sugar refinery.
Due to unprotected exposure to volcanic gases and loads of up to 100kg per trip, the life expectancy of the miners is low. Most miners make this journey twice a day. Serious injuries, especially chest and eye problems, are common but these men accept this form of martyrdom with resignation. The miner there get paid around $5 per day which is twice better daily income what they could earn on the coffee plantations.
A continuous upwelling of sulfur from fumaroles at the level of the lake is the basis of a thriving enterprise. Pure hot red sulfur, oozing out of hissing fissures, turns bright yellow as it dries. It’s then broken up into big chunks with hammers and loaded into baskets. Typical loads range from 70–100 kilograms, and must be carried to the crater rim approximately 200 meters above before being carried several kilometers down the mountain.
At the end of the day, nine to 12 tons of sulfur have been delivered. A natural source of sulfuric acid, the sulfur is used by oil refineries and in the production of detergents and fertilizers. But miners won't see the benefits. They'll just risk their lives again and again, working without any type of protection or security, only to earn some money to feed their families.
More info and sources: 1, 2, 3, 4
See also: Slaves of Sulfur, splendid photographs by Michel L’Huillier.
05 mayo 2008
Placed at the top of the Ijen volcano, in Indonesia, this sulfur mine was opened in 1968. About 200 miners, known as the "sulfur slaves", work here everyday and carry 70 to 90 kg of sulfur in their baskets from the crater floor. The typical daily earnings of these miners are equivalent to approximately $5.00 US. and their life expectancy is only about 30 years.