An in vitro plasmid scission assay (PSA), the cell apoptosis assay, and ICP-MS were employed to study the oxidative potentials and trace element compositions of the airborne particulate matter (PM) in Beijing during a one year-long field campaign from June 2010 to June 2011. The cell damages induced by PM reveled by the cell apoptosis assay showed a similar variation pattern to the DNA damages obtained by PSA, verifying the feasibility of the PSA in analyzing the oxidative capacity of PM samples. The PSA experiments showed that the particle-induced DNA damage was highest in summer, followed by spring, winter and autumn in descending order. The percentages of the oxidative damages to plasmid DNA induced by the water-soluble fractions of PM under the particle doses from 10 to 250 μg/ml were generally lower than 45%, with some values peaking at above 50%. The peak values were frequently present in late spring (i.e. April and May) and early summer (i.e. June) but they were scarcely observed in other seasons. These peak values were mostly associated with haze days or the days with low wind speed (less than 4 m/s), indicating that the PM samples during haze had higher oxidative potential than those during non-haze periods. The oxidative potential induced by the water-soluble fraction of the PM displayed a significant positive correlation with the concentrations of the water-soluble elements Cd, Cs, Pb, Rb, Zn, Be and Bi, demonstrating that the particle-induced oxidative potentials were mainly sourced from these elements. The exposure risk represented by the mass concentration of these elements in unit volume of atmosphere was higher in summer and winter, and lower in autumn and spring. The haze day PM samples not only had higher level of oxidative potentials but also had higher concentrations of water-soluble elements.