The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) prediction equations exemplify a significant effort carried out approximately 15 yrs ago to provide uniform standards for lung function testing, but this set of equations has not been properly validated as yet. The present study evaluates the ECSC reference values and four other sets of prediction equations, using spirometric data collected in 12,900 nonasthmatic subjects (43% lifetime nonsmokers and 36% active smokers) aged 20-44 yrs from the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS). Standardized spirometric measurements were obtained using a common protocol in 34 centres in 14 countries. For each prediction equation, the prediction deviations (i.e. observed minus predicted value) for forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) were examined for the whole study population and for each centre. For the age range included, the errors about the ECSC equations showed the most prominent underestimation of both predicted FVC (+355 and +360 mL on average in males and females, respectively) and predicted FEV1 (+211 and +200 mL, respectively) among the five studies examined. As expected, FVC and FEV1 in active smokers from the ECRHS were significantly lower than in lifetime nonsmokers (each p<0.01). We conclude that the present European recommendations on lung function reference values should be reconsidered, but further data for nonsymptomatic subjects above the age of 44 yrs are needed.