Microscopic observation of metal-containing particles from Chinese continental outflow observed from a non-industrial site

Weijun Li, Tao Wang, Shengzhen Zhou, Shuncheng Lee, Yu Huang, Yuan Gao, Wenxing Wang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Atmospheric metal-containing particles adversely affect human health because of their physiological toxicity. Mixing state, size, phase, aspect ratio, and sphericity of individual metal-containing particles collected in Hong Kong air in winter are examined through transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Eighteen percent of the sulfate particles have one or more tiny metal inclusions. Size distributions of metal and fly ash particles (or inclusions) with diameters from 15 nm to 2.7 μm show the same peak at 210 nm. The major metal particles were classified as Fe-rich (e.g., hematite), Zn-rich (e.g., zinc sulfate and zinc oxide), Pb-rich (e.g., anglesite), Mn-rich, and As-rich, which were likely emitted from industries and coal-fired power plants at high temperatures in mainland China. Compared to fly ash and S-rich particles, metal particles display a lower sphericity of 0.51 and a higher aspect ratio of 1.47, which means their shapes are poorly defined. The elemental mapping of individual particles reveal that sulfate areas without metal inclusions also contain minor Fe, Mn, or Zn. Therefore, the internal mixing of metals and acidic constituents likely solubilize metals and modify metal inclusion shapes. Solubilization of metals in airborne particles can extend their toxicity into nontoxicity parts in the particles. The structure of the metal-containing particles may provide important information for assessing health effects of fine sulfate and nitrate particles with metal inclusions in urban areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9124-9131
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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