Sulphur Miners at Ijen Volcano

Sulphur miners ijen

In the crater of Mount Ijen, one of the volcanoes that I explored during our East Java Volcanoes Tour, is the largest acidic lake on planet earth, with a pH of 0.5 (similar to battery acid). The water in the lake is acidic enough to dissolve clothes and eat through metal.

Despite the dangers, several hundred men go up and down into Ijen’s crater each day to hack out the sulphur that is produced naturally, and carry it down the mountain, in what is one of the world’s harshest work environments.


Welome to Ijen…

Indonesia is home to more active volcanoes than any place on earth.

The crater of Mount Ijen, an active volcano, is one of the most poisonous places in the world. At it’s centre is a lake filled with 2.5 million tons of acid.


Men risk their lives every day venturing into the heart of the volcano to mine the sulphur that is produced there.

The sulphur

Once processed, the sulphur is used to make matches and fertiliser, and vulcanise rubber. It refines the sugar you put in your tea, sets off your New Year’s Eve fireworks and packs the powder that fills your army’s guns.

An active vent close to the lake’s shore is used for the mining operation. Pipes are driven into the fissures in the rock to extract sulphur from the bowels of the mountain. It is dark red when molten, and turns yellow as it cools and solidifies.

Ijen Ijen

The miners break off huge chunks of the cooled sulphur with a crowbar and haul them out by hand with no protective equipment, to load up their wicker baskets.


The Ijen Sulphur Miners

The men carry about 90 kilos of sulphur 200 metres up, out of the crater to the volcano’s rim and then they have to trek nearly 4km down the mountain to the village, via the weighing station, where they are paid about $5 for their load.

Omar lifting the sulphur at Ijen

At the weighing station, Omar attempted to lift the load that the men carry down the treacherous volcano and could barely walk a couple of steps with it.



The men are aware that working here can shorten their lives, just as they are aware that their families worry when they are here. But they need the money, and though it sounds pitiful to you and I, the sulphur miners of East Java make a decent salary by local standards. No other job pays this well.

That said, the dangers of doing this job are of great consequence. Researchers say that workers exposed to sulphur over long periods of time have a life expectancy of only 30 years. And these workers make the trek up the volcano, and in and out of the crater and back down to the base of the volcano about twice a day.

In the past 40 years, 74 miners have died after being overpowered by the toxic fumes that can suddenly swirl from fissures in the rock.

The poisonous clouds are not steam, but concentrated hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide gases.


Most of the men wear rubber boots to protect against the acid, but some wear only sandals, exposing their bare toes. Gloves and gas masks are an unaffordable luxury for men paid $10 to $15 a day. The wet rags in their mouths help against the gas but it ends up dissolving their teeth eventually.

The hydrogen sulphur that the men breathe in is 40 times higher than the safe level. It destroys the lungs and burns the eyes.

The men that you see up and down Mount Ijen sport the scars of their years spent teetering on the edge of life and death. Burns, sores, missing teeth, squashed shoulder bones and poisoned lungs are all symptoms that any man working in the Ijen sulphur mines can expect to bear.

This method of sulphur extraction has all but died out in the rest of the world, but until the late 19th century there were this kind of sulphur mine in Italy, New Zealand, Chile and Indonesia. There are still sulphur mines elsewhere, but these are mechanised now.

If you want to find out more about visiting Ijen, check out my post about the Bromo and Ijen Volcanoes Tour.

I would like to remind you that all the photos used on are my own unless otherwise stated.
You can see my whole collection of Travel Photos here.

For more information about this 3-day tour of the East Java volcanoes, read the following:

Where to Book Your Tour to Bromo and Ijen
Itinerary 3D / 2N Bromo-Ijen Tour
Drive of Hell From yogyakarta to Bromo
Bromo and Ijen Volcanoes Tour
Mount Bromo Sunrise: In Photos
Climbing Mount Bromo: In Photos
Visit East Java’s Volcanoes From Yogyakarta, NOT From Bali

Filed Under: asiafeaturedIndonesiaJavaVolcanoes East Java

About the Author: Based in Mallorca, obsessed with the world and have a lot to say about both... Step into my shoes and join me on a journey...

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