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Acid rain or acid deposition is a form of precipitation (rain, snow, sleet, or hail) containing high levels of sulfuric or nitric acids ( p H below 5.5-5.6). Acid rain is produced when sulfur dioxide and various nitrogen oxides combine with atmospheric moisture, acid rain can contaminate drinking water, damage vegetation and aquatic life, and erode buildings and monuments. Automobile exhausts and the burning of high-sulfur industrial fuels are thought to be the main causes, but natural sources, such as volcanic gases and forest fires, may also be significant.
Regulations have been enacted in North America and Europe to curb sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants; these include the U.S. Clean Air Act (as reauthorized and expanded in 1990) and the Helsinki protocol (1985), in which 21 European nations promised to reduce emissions by specified amounts.