Natural pollution caused by the extremely acidic crater lake Kawah Ijen, East Java, Indonesia

Ansje J. Löhr*, Thorn A. Bogaard, Alex Heikens, Martin R. Hendriks, Sri Sumarti, Manfred J. Van Bergen, Cornells A.M. Van Gestel, Nico M. Van Straalen, Pieter Z. Vroon, Budi Widianarko

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background, Aims and Scope. Lakes developing in volcano craters can become highly acidic through the influx of volcanic gases, yielding one of the chemically most extreme natural environments on earth. The Kawah Ijen crater lake in East Java (Indonesia) has a pH < 0.3. It is the source of the extremely acidic and metal-polluted river Banyupahit (45 km). The lake has a significant impact on the river ecosystem as well as on a densely populated area downstream, where agricultural fields are irrigated with water with a pH between 2.5 and 3.5. The chemistry of the river water seemed to have changed over the past decade and the negative effect in the irrigation area increased. A multidisciplinary approach was used to investigate the altered situation and to get insight in the water chemistry and the hydrological processes influencing these alterations. Moreover, a first investigation of the effects of the low pH on ecosystem health and human health was performed. Methods. Water samples were taken at different sites along the river and in the irrigation area. Sampling for macroinvertebrates was performed at the same sites. Samples of soil and crop were taken in the irrigation area. All samples were analysed for metals (using ICP-AES) and other elements, and concentrations were compared to local and international standards. Results and Discussion. The river carries a very high load of SO4, NH4 PO4 Cl, F, Fe, Cu, Pb, Zn, Al and other potentially toxic elements. Precipitation and discharge data over the period of 1980-2000 clearly show that the precipitation on the Ijen plateau influences water chemistry of the downstream river. Metal concentrations in the river water exceed the concentrations mentioned in Indonesian and international quality guidelines, even in the downstream river and the irrigation area. Some metal concentrations are extremely high, especially iron (up to 1,600 mg/l) and aluminium (up to 3,000 mg/l). The food-webs in the acidic parts of the river are highly underdeveloped. No invertebrates were present in the extremely acidic water and, at pH 2.3, only chironomids were found. This also holds true for the river water with pH 3.3 in the downstream area. Agricultural soils in the irrigation area have a pH of 3.9 compared to a pH of 7.0 for soils irrigated with neutral water. Decreased yields of cultivated crops are probably caused by the use of Al containing acidic irrigation water. Increased levels of metals (especially Cd, Co, Ni and Mn) are found in different foodstuffs, but still remain within acceptable ranges. Considering local residents' diets, Cd levels may lead to an increased risk for the human health. Fluoride exposure is of highest concern, with levels in drinking water exceeding guideline values and a lot of local residents suffering from dental fluorosis. Conclusions, Recommendations and Outlook. In short, our data indicate that the Ijen crater lake presents a serious threat to the environment as well as human health and agricultural production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-95
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • Acidic crater lake
  • Ecosystem health
  • Human health
  • Indonesia
  • Low pH
  • Metal pollution
  • Water chemistry


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