Health risks of adults in Hong Kong related to inhalation of particle-bound heavy metal(loid)s

Xiaocui Chen, Tony J. Ward, Chinmoy Sarkar, Kin Fai Ho, Chris Webster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Heterogeneity between ambient and personal exposure to heavy metals has been documented. However, few studies have investigated potential health risks posed by inhalational exposure to airborne heavy metal(loid)s at the individual level. A total of 404 personal fine particles (PM2.5) samples were collected from 61 adult residents (aged 18–63 years) in Hong Kong during 2014–2015. Heavy metal(loid)s were analyzed using energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence. Among the analyzed heavy metal(loid)s, zinc (Zn) was the most abundant component in personal PM2.5, followed by lead (Pb), copper (Cu), and vanadium (V); cobalt (Co) and cadmium (Cd) were not detectable. Health risks of personal exposure to heavy metal(loid)s via inhalation were assessed for adults, including non-cancer risks that were characterized by hazard quotient (HQ) and hazard index (HI). The results indicated that non-cancer risks of heavy metal(loid)s were attributable to Cu, with a 95th HQ value > 1. Arsenic (As) and hexavalent chromium [Cr (VI)] were also significant contributors to inhalation cancer risks (> 1 × 10−6) for the adult participants. Finally, we employed a Monte Carlo simulation to evaluate the uncertainty associated with health risk assessment. The mean and median upper-bound lifetime cancer risk associated with inhalation exposure to carcinogenic heavy metal(loid)s exceeded the acceptable level (1 × 10−6) for adults. Traffic emission (including non-tailpipe exhaust), shipping emission, and regional pollution were significant sources of heavy metals. These findings suggest that emission controls targeting local vehicles and vessels should be given priority in Hong Kong.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)691-706
Number of pages16
JournalAir Quality, Atmosphere and Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Cancer risk assessment
  • Individual exposure
  • Monte Carlo simulation
  • Source identification
  • Toxic metals


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