J. Steven Picou
Professor of Sociology
University of South Alabama
Mobile, AL 36688


Research was conducted on the economic, social, cultural and psychological impacts of the Exxon Valdez (EVOS) from 1989-1997. An interdisciplinary team of researchers was organized and directed by Dr. J. Steven Picou, who was primarily funded by The National Science Foundation and the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council.

The design for this series of studies included a demographically-matched control community for comparison to communities located in the EVOS region.

Data analysis has revealed severe patterns of social disruption, work disruption and family disruption from 1989-1992.

Data analysis has revealed severe levels of spill-related psychological stress from 1989-1992.

Analysis revealed that commercial fishers and Alaska Natives were the two groups at highest risk for suffering from spill-related negative impacts.

Analysis has revealed that the protracted litigation process has become a "secondary disaster" that facilitates chronic social conflict, loss of institutional trust, a heightened fear of future spills, and perceptions of severe damage to the quality of life in local communities.

In 1995, six years after the spill, psychological data for commercial fishers found that 20 percent had symptoms of severe anxiety, 40 percent had severe depression and 14 percent had symptoms of hostility. Spill-related PTSD was assessed using multiple measures of symptom-based responses and 37 percent were found to meet the criteria for the diagnosis of PTSD. Over half of the respondents (52.10/0) had severe depression, PTSD or a combination of predominant symptoms.

Resource loss was measured by indicators of "financial ... .. objective," "conditions" and "personal" resources. Following an average income gain of $39,382 in 1989, commercial fishers reported financial losses from 1990 to 1994 which averaged $21,689. This economic loss spiral was found to characterize approximately 35 percent of the commercial fishers interviewed.

Severe depression and PTSD were found to be associated with "being in an economic loss spiral" "having sold possessions" and by having "made economic investments without gain" over the last six years. High levels of depression and PTSD were found to characterize commercial fishers who had experienced economic (financial) resource losses.

The deterioration of family relations and breakdown of relationships with relatives and friends was found to be associated with psychological symptoms. Overall, a majority of the respondents classified as having severe depression or PTSD reported a decline in their social relationships and adverse impacts of the EVOS on their families.

A majority of respondents who were severely depressed or diagnosed with PTSD reported "more physical health problems." All respondents who reported "more emotional health problems" were classified as being severely depressed. The vast majority of these in the high PTSD category also reported "more emotional health problems" since the EVOS.

Long-term social and psychological impacts of the EVOS have persisted for over six years. Psychological symptoms observed for commercial fishers included severe anxiety, hostility, depression and PTSD. Economic, social and personal resource loss was associated with high levels of depression and PTSD. The results replicate those of previous studies of technological disasters and expand our understanding of the mental health impacts of the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.

Average Estimated Loss Since the Spill

1989 - Average Gain: $39,381.58

Total loss:
1989-94: -$190,745
Range: (-.$4,050,000) to (+$352,198)
1990-94: -$214,689
Range: (-$3,850,000) to (+$175,000)

Back to Psychological Impact Page