Will I still be exposed to the harmful effects of PVC (phthalates) if I cover my vinyl floors with ceramic tile?
I have two small children and am especially concerned about their exposure to the phthalates released by PVC. I currently have vinyl flooring in my kitchen and bathroom and would like to replace it. However, we have come to discover that we have multiple layers of flooring beneath our top layer and the bottom layers contain asbestos. Ultimately we would like to remove the vinyl from our house completely but now must deal with professional asbestos abatement in order to do so. If we were to merely cover our top layer of vinyl with ceramic tile, would we be protecting our children from the harmful effects of the PVC or will we still be at risk?
Because phthalates are not chemically bound to PVC, they can be ingested through food and drink contact and toys children put in their mouths. Also skin absorption from wall and floor coverings may contribute to exposure according to the University of Michigan Formative Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center.
While removal of the various flooring layers can be done by professionals correctly, covering your existing flooring with ceramic tile, applied to a solid substrate such as concrete board, is a reasonable and lower cost option.
With regard to asbestos, the 'leave it alone' view is supported by an article from the EPA here. The new ceramic tile will both encapsulate the potential asbestos containing layers as well as put some 'distance' between the vinyl layer and your child's skin.
The condition of the sub-floor and joists should also be noted. Small damaged areas may be repaired from below and not disturb the floor finishes. However, more substantive structural damage, such as water damage below a sink or dishwasher, may require proper floor covering removal to correct the damage.
Good luck with your project,