Source apportionment and water solubility of metals in size segregated particles in urban environments

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-355
Journal / PublicationScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2015


Metals in atmospheric particulate matter (PM) have been associated with various adverse health effects. Different factors contributing to the characterization and distribution of atmospheric metals in urban environments lead to uncertainty of the understanding of their impact on public health. However, few studies have provided a comprehensive picture of the spatial and seasonal variability of metal concentration, solubility and size distribution, all of which have important roles in their contribution to health effects. This study presents an experimental investigation on the characteristics of metals in PM2.5 and coarse PM in two seasons from four urban sites in Hong Kong. The PM samples were extracted separately with aqua regia and water, and a total of sixteen elements were analyzed using ICP-MS and ICP-OES to determine the size segregated concentration and solubility of metals. The concentrations of major metals were distributed in similar patterns with the same order of magnitude among different urban sites. Source apportionment using Positive Matrix Factorization (PMF) indicated that three sources namely road dust, vehicular exhaust and ship emission are major contributors to the urban atmospheric metal concentrations in Hong Kong with distinctly different profiles between coarse PM and PM2.5 fractions. The individual metals were assigned to different sources, consistent with literature documentation, except potassium emerging with substantial contribution from vehicle exhaust emission. Literature data from past studies on both local and other cities were compared to the results from the present study to investigate the impact of different emission sources and control policies on metal distribution in urban atmosphere. A large variation of solubility among the metals reflected that the majority of metals in PM2.5 were more soluble than those in coarse PM indicating size dependent chemical states of metals. The data from this study provides a rich dataset of metals in urban atmosphere and can be useful for targeted emission control to mitigate the adverse impact of metallic pollution on public health.

Research Area(s)

  • Metals, PM<inf>2.5</inf> and coarse PM, Source apportionment, Urban air pollution, Water solubility