19 Jan 2011 09:00
In the remote East Java, Indonesia lies the ominous Kawah Ijen volcano, topped with an immense crater and a 200-meter-deep lake of sulfuric acid. It is within this precarious work environment where miners spend their days, hacking chunks of cooled sulfur with steel bars and ferrying up and down the mountain twin basket loads that weigh between 130 and 220 pounds. As they break up sulfur, they are perpetually engulfed in a cloud of smoke. Respiratory issues are rife among the workers because of this, who brave their surroundings with minimal to no protection. There is little pay-off for this sacrifice, as the daily earnings range from a mere $8 - $12. Gloves and gas masks are an unaffordable luxury.
An active vent at the edge of the lake is a source of elemental sulphur, and is what supports the mining operation. Escaping volcanic gases are channelled through a network of ceramic pipes, which causes the condensation of molten sulfur. The sulfur, which is deep red in colour when molten, pours slowly from the ends of these pipes and pools on the ground, turning bright yellow as it cools. It is this sulfur that keeps the miners returning every day despite the danger posed to their health, desperate to make a living.
Photos By: Jeffrey Bright