How Does Acid Precipitation Affect Living Organisms

How does acid precipitation affect living organisms? Acid precipitation is harmful to organisms as acid rain seeps into the ground dissolving nutrients, including magnesium and calcium. Acid rains release aluminum into the soil, making it difficult to absorb water from trees. In addition, acid rains cause health problems in humans.

Acid precipitation or acid rains that are unusually acidic can change the environment by becoming harmful to forests, living organisms, lakes, and streams, drinking water, etc. Air pollution can result in making acid rains with unusually high sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide percentages.  

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Acid Rain
    – Definition, Features, Importance
2. How Does Acid Precipitation Affect Living Organisms
     – Explanation

Key Terms

Acid Rain, Dissolving Minerals

How Does Acid Precipitation Affect Living Organisms

What is Acid Rain

Acid rain or acid precipitation is a broad term used to describe any form of precipitation of acidic components including sulfuric or nitric acid that can fall onto the ground in wet or dry forms from the atmosphere. Basically, sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide that are emitted to the atmosphere are transported throughout the atmosphere by the wind and air currents. These compounds react with water and oxygen, forming sulfuric acid and nitric acid which are acidic. They fall onto the ground in the form of acid rain.

How Does Acid Precipitation Affect Living Organisms

Figure 1: Acid Rain

Furthermore, small portions of sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide that come from volcanoes can form acid rain. But most of the acids come from burning fossil fuels. There are three major sources of atmospheric sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide. They include burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, from vehicles and heavy equipment, and manufacturing industries. These sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide can spread through long distances through the air creating problems for human beings.     

How Does Acid Precipitation Affect Living Organisms

Acid precipitation or acid rain can cause health problems in humans. The presence of sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide causes air pollution, leading to respiratory diseases in humans, including asthma and chronic bronchitis. It also makes the air hard to breathe by animals. In addition, these gases in the air can cause acid rain as well as particles in the air. When these particles go into the respiratory system, it causes health problems. Nitrogen oxide can lead to ground-level ozone, which can cause diseases including pneumonia and bronchitis. Likewise, air pollution by these gases can cause even permanent lung damage.

Acid Precipitation Affect Living Organisms

Figure 2: Acid Clouds

Furthermore, the pH of the natural water, including drinking water, is 6.5 to 8.5. However, acid rains have a lower pH than the natural pH of water on Earth. Therefore, it lowers the pH of the drinking water, making it not suitable for drinking. Lowering pH by acid rain is proportional to the lowering pH of drinking water. It also has harmful effects on plants, aquatic animals, and infrastructure. In addition, the pH of the water in lakes and streams becomes acidic due to acid rain.   

Moreover, acid rain has adverse effects on forests. It dissolves magnesium and calcium in the soil, making it unavailable for the use of plants. In addition, it dissolves aluminum, making it difficult to uptake water from the soil by plants. Moreover, acidic clouds and fog can damage forests at higher altitudes.        


In brief, acid rain or acid precipitation is a condition that occurs due to the presence of high concentrations of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide gases in the air. The main sources of these gases come from the burning of fossil fuels, vehicles, and the manufacturing industry. Acid rain can cause damage to forests, freshwater, microbes, soil, animals, and humans. It lowers the pH of water. This makes the drinking water and water in the lakes and streams to become acidic. Moreover, the gases in the atmosphere can cause damages the lungs of animals, causing asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia in humans. Acid rain can also damage forests by dissolving magnesium and calcium. Therefore, trees are unable to absorb these ions.       

  1. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). What is Acid Rain?. EPA.
  2. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.-b). Why is Acid rain Harmful?. EPA. 
Image Courtesy:
  1. Origins of acid rain” By Zazou – Derivative work (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
  2. Cloud formation from refinery in Curacao” By HdeK – Own Work (CC-BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Lakna

Lakna, a graduate in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, is a Molecular Biologist and has a broad and keen interest in the discovery of nature related things. She has a keen interest in writing articles regarding science.

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