More than 400 people signed a petition calling on the Welsh Government to create a national public database in a bid to stop asbestos fibres being disturbed in classrooms.
Now almost two years later Mr Lewis has dismissed calls for a database, insisting it would not add to public safety. He said creating a database would be a “tremendous bureaucratic burden to local authorities”. Mr Lewis said:
“It’s not just schools that contain asbestos, right across the public and domestic realm we spent 30 years building this stuff into our buildings.
It’s ubiquitous, this stuff is all around us all the time unless we are spending all our time in very modern buildings. If we were to go head down that path we’d have to consider very carefully what the worth of it would be.”
In 2008 a coroner ruled art teacher Renee Blodwen Eden, 69, from Anglesey, was most likely killed by exposure to asbestos in a school building.
And earlier this year the Daily Post revealed Flintshire council paid more than £430,000 on behalf of the former Clwyd County Council to two asbestos victims.
Mr Lewis told the Assembly’s Petition Committee this week, that aside from the petition he was not aware of any real concerns from parents and staff about asbestos in schools. Powers for both education and health are devolved, but the Welsh Government says the responsibility lies with the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
A study sampling air quality in schools in England is being carried out. Mr Lewis said he was “keeping a close eye on it” and a working group had been set up to react to the study.
However, Cenric Clement-Evans, of the Right to Know Asbestos in Schools Wales campaign group who organised the petition, said Mr Lewis’s response was not “good enough”. He said:
“We should be setting the agenda rather than letting England lead the way, or we should at least be working in tandem.”
Owen Hathway, of National Union of Teachers Cymru said asbestos was not something to be “taken lightly”. He said:
“No teacher, or for that matter pupil, should ever be placed in a situation where their health, and in some cases where asbestos is concerned their life, is put at risk.”