The Hidden Deaths Due To Exxon Valdez

Although no one died aboard the Exxon Valdez when it crashed into the rocks off of Prince Edward Sound, Alaska, it eventually took its toll on human life.

Along with the deaths of four individuals during cleanup response efforts, NPR reports that at least seven suicides have been associated with the spill.

Steven Picou, an environmental sociologist at the University of South Alabama, tracked the lives of those affected by the disaster. He described the Alaskan communities as being initially caught off guard. 

"In Alaska, the communities up there were blindsided," Picou told NPR. "They did not realize what was happening to them until the suicides started and the divorces started and the domestic violence became acute in the communities."

As the fishing industry took a hit, many in the area felt hopeless and destitute. The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council released reports detailing the various contributing factors that eventually led to substance abuse and suicide. 

"The community exhibited every kind of social stress you can imagine," Stan Jones, spokesman for the council, told AP. "Alcoholism went up. Suicide went up. Family violence went up. Divorces went up. Of course, bankruptcies and various kinds of financial failures went up with the attendant stress on families."

Even community leaders were affected. Robert Van Brocklin, who served as Cordova's mayor during the Exxon Valdez disaster, committed suicide years after the spill. According to Reuters, he worked along with many who were in industries destroyed by the spill and he mentioned Exxon in the suicide note he left behind.