Comparisons of Spatial and Temporal Variations in PM2.5-Bound Trace Elements in Urban and Rural Areas of South Korea, and Associated Potential Health Risks

Jayant Nirmalkar, Kwangyul Lee, Junyoung Ahn, Jiyi Lee, Mijung Song

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


PM2.5-bound trace elements were chosen for health risk assessment because they have been linked to an increased risk of respiratory and cardiovascular illness. Since the Korean national air quality standard for ambient particulate matter is based on PM2.5 mass concentration, there have only been a few measurements of PM2.5 particles together with trace elements that can be utilized to evaluate their effects on air quality and human health. Thus, this study describes the trace elements bound to PM2.5 in Seoul (urban area) and Seosan (rural area) using online nondestructive energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence analysis from December 2020 to January 2021. At both the Seoul and Seosan sites, S, K, Si, Ca, and Fe constituted most of the PM2.5-bound trace elements (~95%); major components such as S, K, and soil (estimatedcalculatedcalculated based on oxides of Si, Fe, Ca, and Ti) were presumably from anthropogenic and crustal sources, as well as favorable meteorological conditions. During winter, synoptic meteorology favored the transport of particles from severely contaminated regions, such as the East Asian outflow and local emissions. The total dry deposition flux for crustal elements was 894.5 ± 320.8 µg m−2 d−1 in Seoul and 1088.8 ± 302.4 µg m−2 d−1 in Seosan. Moreover, potential health risks from the trace elements were estimated. Cancer risk values for carcinogenic trace elements (Cr, As, Ni, and Pb) were within the tolerable limit (1 × 10−6), suggesting that adults and children were not at risk of cancer throughout the study period in Seoul and Seosan. Furthermore, a potential risk assessment of human exposure to remaining carcinogens (Cr, As, Ni, and Pb) and non-carcinogens (Cu, Fe, Zn, V, Mn, and Se) indicated that these trace elements posed no health risks. Nevertheless, trace element monitoring, risk assessment, and mitigation must be strengthened throughout the study area to confirm that trace-element-related health effects remain harmless. Researchers and policymakers can use the database from this study on spatial and temporal variation to establish actions and plans in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number753
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


  • PM-bound trace elements
  • cancer risk assessment
  • dry deposition
  • hazard index
  • origins


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