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Any precipitation, including snow, that contains a heavy concentration of sulfuric and nitric acids. This form of pollution is a serious environmental problem in the large urban and industrial areas of North America, Europe, and Asia. Automobiles, certain industrial operations, and electric power plants that burn fossil fuels emit the gases sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere, where they combine with water vapour in clouds to form sulfuric and nitric acids. The highly acidic precipitation from these clouds may contaminate lakes and streams, damaging fish and other aquatic species; damage vegetation, including agricultural crops and trees; and corrode the outsides of buildings and other structures (historic monuments are especially vulnerable). Though usually most severe around large urban and industrial areas, acid precipitation may also occur at great distances from the source of the pollutants.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on acid rain, visit Britannica.com.