Air pollution is shortening lives by almost two years in parts of the European Union, the European Environmental Agency (EEA) said, strengthening the case for a tightening of emissions restrictions in the bloc.
Legislation had managed to cut the amount of some toxins belched out by exhaust fumes and chimneys across Europe, an EEA report published on last week said.
But there were still dangerous levels of microscopic particles, known as particulate matter and linked to diseases like lung cancer and cardiovascular problems, it added.
On average, air pollution was reducing human lives across the region by roughly eight months, the report said. It also quoted separate Commission-funded research showing reducing the levels of particulates could extend life expectancy by 22 months in some areas.
The report did not spell out where those areas were, but said Poland and other industrial regions of eastern Europe had particularly high levels or particulate pollution.
London had the worst air quality of any EU capital and was the only British city to exceed daily EU limits on pollutants, it added.
Speaking after the launch of the report, EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said a review of EU air quality laws next year needed to bring EU limits on pollution levels closer to the stricter World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on safe levels of pollutants.
"This (the report) is a really serious warning about the importance to our quality of life and health," Potocnik said.
Apart from the impact on health, EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade said the pollution cost the bloc €1 trillion ($1.30 trillion) a year in healthcare and wider impacts on ecosystems.
"European Union policy has reduced emissions of many pollutants over the last decade, but we can go further," she said.
Ozone is another challenge
Particulate matter is seen as the most serious air pollution risk in Europe. Using the most recent data from 2010, the report said 21 percent of the bloc's urban population was exposed to larger particulate matter at concentrations above a daily EU limit.
Up to 30 percent of city-dwellers faced exposure above a yearly EU target level to finer particles, small enough to pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, making them particularly hazardous to health.
Another major air pollutant is ozone, which can cause respiratory problems. Again exposure levels were high, with sunny Mediterranean nations particularly affected as sunlight is needed to form ozone.
In 2010, 97% of EU inhabitants were exposed to ozone above the WHO reference levels – and 17% above the much lower EU target level.
The pollutants come from fumes from cars, industry, household fuel burning.