Though she wasn’t a firefighter, police officer or EMT, Marya Columbia described herself as a “responder” when applying for the World Trade Center Health Program. She qualified for benefits as a survivor because her Lower Manhattan apartment was in the designated exposure zone. However, that classification does not begin to describe Ms. Columbia’s contribution to the Ground Zero recovery effort in the weeks and months following September 11, 2001.
Ms. Columbia who died of lung cancer in October, 2019, was an accomplished violinist who played with the American Philharmonic and artists such as Josh Groban and Diana Ross. She and her husband had watched the 9/11 attacks from outside their home before being evacuated. Shortly afterward, she became part of the Music Givers — a group of volunteer musicians that performed for exhausted first responders who came to historic St. Paul’s Chapel to take a break from working on the pile. In the chapel and throughout the neighborhood, people knew that something was different about the air but they spend months breathing in hazardous substances, due in part to false government assurances.
Marya Columbia’s sad death at the age of 63 highlights important issues to remember as we look to help others who did their part to aid New York City’s cleanup:
- Long latency periods — Cancers that affect the lungs, such as mesothelioma, sometimes take 30 or more years to develop. When symptoms present themselves, a victim might not make the connection to their Ground Zero proximity decades earlier.
- Overlooked volunteers and residents — Understandably, significant attention is devoted to the problems suffered by first responders who were on the front lines during the World Trade Center recovery and cleanup. However, volunteers who handled meals, helped at comfort stations and carried on numerous other tasks should also be aware of the risk they face, along with those who lived or went to school below Canal Street.
- Potential victims not in the WTC Health Program — Even after symptoms of her fatal cancer started to affect her health, Ms. Columbia had not yet applied to the WTC Health Program, which provides medical monitoring and health coverage for individuals who were exposed. Shortly before her death, she was admitted to the program, paving the way for other musicians, many of whom lack consistent health insurance coverage of their own, to receive the help that is available.
Marya Columbia deserves to be remembered for how her gifts provided solace during dark days for New York. Hopefully, her example continues to benefit others.
Barasch & McGarry represents people suffering from 9/11-related illnesses and others who were located in the exposure zone around Ground Zero who believe they might have been affected. For a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, please call 888-351-9421 or contact us online.