Air pollution is linked to around 467,000 early deaths a year in Europe, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said on Wednesday.
Almost nine out of 10 European city dwellers breathe air that is harmful to their health, though the continent's air quality is slowly improving, the agency said in its annual report.
"Emission reductions have led to improvements in air quality in Europe, but not enough to avoid unacceptable damage to human health and the environment," EEA executive director Hans Bruyninckx said in a statement.
Data from monitoring stations across Europe showed that in 2014 around 85 percent of the urban population was exposed to fine particulate matter (PM), microscopic specks of dust and soot caused mainly by burning fossil fuels, at levels deemed harmful to health by the World Health Organization (WHO).
— EU EnvironmentAgency (@EUEnvironment) November 23, 2016
PM10, particulate matter measuring less than 10 microns, or 10 millionths of a metre, can lodge in the airways, causing respiratory problems.
More perilous still are smaller PM2.5 particles which can enter the lungs and even the bloodstream.
The report said that in 2014, 16 percent of city dwellers in the EU were exposed to PM10 levels above the EU target, while eight percent were exposed to PM2.5 levels exceeding the threshold.
Emissions of nitrogen oxides, which are linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, from road transport had not fallen "sufficiently," the EEA said.
Similarly, emissions of PM2.5 and a particular hydrocarbon from coal and biomass combustion were "sustained", it noted.
European parliament passes new law
The European Parliament passed a new draft law on air pollution on Wednesday but the European Commission and several members of parliament (MEPs) said the move was not enough to cut emissions to WHO standards.
— European Parliament (@Europarl_EN) November 23, 2016
The law, which has taken almost three years to get through parliament, aims to halve the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution, and targets the many EU states already in breach of existing air pollution limits.
"Air pollution is the number one environmental cause of death in the EU," conservative MEP Julie Girling, who shepherded the bill through parliament, told the plenary session in Strasbourg.
It's not a perfect solution but it will go a long way to making important health improvements for our citizens.
Following a political agreement reached with EU nations in June, the plenary session adopted the limits on air toxins estimated to reduce health hazards by 49.6 percent, compared with the Commission's target in its 2013 proposal of 52 percent.
The bill, which still needs the endorsement of member states in the Council, sets national limits until 2030 on major pollutants, including dust and sulphur dioxide.