The severe winter haze episode that occurred in Shanghai from December 2013 to January 2014, characterized by elevated levels of particulate matter (PM), received considerable international attention because of its impacts on public health and disruption of day-to-day activities. To examine the characteristics of PM during this haze episode and to assess the chemistry behind formation of secondary inorganic aerosols (SIA) and associated health impacts due to exposure of toxic elements, we characterized eight water soluble inorganic (WSI) ions and twenty four trace elements in twelve size-fractionated PM (10 nm-9.9 μm). The average mass concentrations of coarse (1.8 μm < Dp < 9.9 μm), fine (Dp < 2.5 μm), ultrafine (0.01 μm < Dp < 0.10 μm) and nano (0.01 μm < Dp < 0.056 μm) particles during hazy days were 2.8, 5.2, 5.3 and 5.1 times higher than those during non-hazy days, respectively. The in-situ pH (pHIS), as predicted by the Aerosol Inorganic Model (AIM-IV) in all sizes of PM, was observed to be lower during hazy days (average of -0.64) than that during non-hazy days (average of -0.29); there was an increased acidity in haze aerosols. Based on the measured concentrations of particulate-bound toxic elements, health risk assessment was conducted, which revealed that the excess lifetime carcinogenic risk to individuals exposed to fine particles under haze events increased significantly (P < 0.05) to 69 ± 18 × 10-6 compared to non-hazy days (34 ± 10 × 10-6). The qualitative source attribution analysis suggested that the occurrence of haze could be due to a combination of increased emissions of PM from multiple anthropogenic sources followed by its accumulation under unfavourable meteorological conditions with lower mixing heights and less wind speeds and the formation of secondary aerosols. © 2015 Elsevier Ltd.