Sulphur miners in volcano

Sulphur mine Mount Ijen, in Java

Tough day at work? Spare a thought for these sulphur miners who work inside the crater of an active VOLCANO.

A British photographer snapped these incredible pictures which highlight the working conditions of sulphur miners in Indonesia.

The miners walk more than nine kilometers a day, carrying baskets full of sulphur weighing twice their own bodyweight up and down the volcano.

Photographer Paul Cowell, 42, spent a day with the miners inside the mountainous cauldron.

Mr Cowell, of Manchester, said: “It looks like hell on earth – the gases envelope you and make your eyes and throat sting.”

The crater of Mount Ijen, in Java, is home to a natural source of sulphur, used in fertilisers, pesticides, wine-making and food preservation.

Miners have to trek more than two miles up the side of the volcano, before descending another mile down into the crater at a gradient of 60 degrees.

The miners, who are aged between 16 and 60, then spend an hour chipping away at sulphuric rock – which bubbles up from the Earth’s crust at a temperature of 100 degrees and solidifies as it cools.

Once the miners have filled a pair of baskets with the bright yellow rocks, they hoist them onto their shoulders and carry the 90 kilogram load down the steep mountainside for weighing.

The hard workers typically earn around 5p per kilogram – the average miner takes home six to eight pounds a day after working from 7am until 6pm.

Mr Cowell said: “Once they get the momentum going when they are walking downhill they pick up speed.

“They seem pretty strong as they flick the bar from shoulder to shoulder – but they all have scars from carrying their load.

“Just carrying my camera up the mountain was hard work – and most miners will make the trip two or three times a day.”

The crater is also home to a turquoise lake of pure sulphuric acid – with a recorded pH level of 0.5.

The sulphur gases can be dangerous to the miners – some don’t even wear a mask for protection. Prolonged exposure to the noxious gases frequently causes respiratory problems for the workers, who spend 11 hours a day in stifling conditions.

Mr Cowell said: “For about three days after I went I had a really metallic taste at the back of throat, as well as a stinging in my nostrils.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like working there – they must be in pain all the time.

“The sulphuric gases react with any water so it made my eyes sting and scorched my throat.”

Mr Cowell said some of the miners continue to work in the uncomfortable conditions as they know that they are guaranteed a regular wage.

He said: “If you work as a farmer you might have a bad season – at least the miners know the sulphur is always there.”

Most miners work seven days a week to earn enough money to feed their families.

The mountain provides work for more than 200 miners who between them extract around 14 tons of sulphur every day.

More high resolution pictures are available on request. To discuss rates for using pictures and copy, contact news editor Tom Knight on 07815 004413 or tom@medavia.co.uk.

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