Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are believed to contribute to the adverse health effects of aerosols. This may happen by inhaled particle-bound (exogenic) ROS (PB-ROS) or by ROS formed within the respiratory tract by certain aerosol components (endogenic ROS). We investigated the chemical composition of aerosols and their exogenic ROS content at the two contrasting locations Beijing (China) and Bern (Switzerland). We apportioned the ambient organic aerosol to different sources and attributed the observed water-soluble PB-ROS to them. The oxygenated organic aerosol (OOA, a proxy for secondary organic aerosol, SOA) explained the highest fraction of the exogenic ROS concentration variance at both locations. We also characterized primary and secondary aerosol emissions generated from different biogenic and anthropogenic sources in smog chamber experiments. The exogenic PB-ROS content in the OOA from these emission sources was comparable to that in the ambient measurements. Our results imply that SOA from gaseous precursors of different anthropogenic emission sources is a crucial source of water-soluble PB-ROS and should be additionally considered in toxicological and epidemiological studies in an adequate way besides primary emissions. The importance of PB-ROS may be connected to the seasonal trends in health effects of PM reported by epidemiological studies, with elevated incidences of adverse effects in warmer seasons, which are accompanied by more-intense atmospheric oxidation processes. © 2019 Author(s).