Optical properties, source apportionment and redox activity of humic-like substances (HULIS) in airborne fine particulates in Hong Kong

Yiqiu Ma, Yubo Cheng, Xinghua Qiu, Gang Cao, Binyu Kuang, Jian Zhen Yu, Di Hu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


Humic-like substances (HULIS) account for a considerable fraction of water-soluble organic matter (WSOM) in ambient fine particulates (PM2.5) over the world. However, systemic studies regarding the chemical characteristics, sources and redox activity of HULIS are still limited. In this study, the mass concentration, optical properties, and reactive oxygen species (ROS)-generation potential of HULIS were investigated in PM2.5 samples collected in Hong Kong during 2011–2012, and they all showed higher levels on days under regional pollution than on days under long range transport (LRT) pollution and local emissions. Positive matrix factorization (PMF) analysis was conducted regarding the mass concentration and dithiothreitol (DTT) activity of HULIS. Four primary sources (i.e. marine vessels, industrial exhaust, biomass burning, and vehicle emissions), and two secondary sources (i.e. secondary organic aerosol formation and secondary sulfate) were identified. Most sources showed higher contributions to both the mass concentration and DTT activity of HULIS on regional days than on LRT and local days, except that marine vessels had a higher contribution on local days than the other two synoptic conditions. Secondary processes were the major contributor to HULIS (54.9%) throughout the year, followed by biomass burning (27.4%) and industrial exhaust (14.7%). As for the DTT activity of HULIS, biomass burning (62.9%) and secondary processes (25.4%) were found to be the top two contributors. Intrinsic ROS-generation potential of HULIS was also investigated by normalizing the DTT activity by HULIS mass in each source. HULIS from biomass burning were the most DTT-active, followed by marine vessels; while HULIS formed through secondary processes were the least DTT-active. For the optical properties of HULIS, multiple linear regression model was adopted to evaluate the contributions of various sources to the light absorbing ability of HULIS. Biomass burning was found to be the only source significantly associated with the light absorbing property of HULIS.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113087
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Volume255, Part 1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

User-Defined Keywords

  • Hong Kong
  • Optical properties
  • Oxidative potential
  • PM-bound HULIS
  • Source apportionment


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