Farming Sulphur on the Edge of an Acid-Spewing Volcano Is Just as Miserable as It Sounds

By Andrew Tarantola on at

The sulphur in your match-head comes from the earth just like any other ore. However, most other minerals aren't still excavated by hand. From the edges of giant acid pools.

The Ijen volcanos are located in East Java, Indonesia and offer a prime source for sulphur. Volcanic gasses condense as they move up through ceramic pipes implanted in the volcanic rock. As the gas cools, it turns to molten sulphur and leaks out of the pipes, and then hardens into the smelly yellow rock we're familiar with. Once it's hard, crews break apart the sulphur blocks, load them into baskets, and trundle them up insanely steep hills to the rim of the caldera. For reference, the baskets weigh about 200 pounds and they're being carried 980 feet up a 45 to 60-degree slope all in front of a 600-foot-wide pool of liquid death (that isn't steam in the picture, it's a cloud of sulfurous gas). After reaching the summit, workers then have to descend nearly two miles to the base of the mountain for weighing. On average, a basket of sulphur will fetch £8 and miners will make two trips every day.

The 200 miners employed at Ijen excavate 14 tons of material a day, just 20 per cent of what the mountain produces. [Wikipedia, Environmental Graffiti via Neatorama - Image: Matthew Harrigan]