Air pollution was thought to have caused 64,000 deaths in the United Kingdom in 2015, including 17,000 fatal cases of heart and artery disease.
The researchers found that in Europe - the key focus of the European Society of Cardiology research - air pollution caused an estimated 790,000 deaths, between 40 and 80 percent of them from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.
On average, a toxic cocktail of pollutants from vehicles, industry and agriculture shortens the lives of those who die prematurely by 2.2 years, they calculated.
Air pollution causes more deaths globally than smoking and kills twice as many people as previously thought, including 64,000 a year in the United Kingdom, a study has found. "Smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not", Thomas Münzel, a researcher at Johannes Gutenberg University and study author, in a news release.
The complex study involved computer simulations of interacting natural and man-made chemicals combined with new information about population density, disease risk factors, and causes of death. Authors of another study on pollution released a year ago suggested that "fine particle air pollution is the largest environmental risk factor worldwide, responsible for a substantially larger number of attributable deaths than other more well-known behavioral risk factors such as alcohol use, physical inactivity, or high sodium intake".
By comparison, the average human hair is 60-to-90 microns thick.
Cases of lung and cardiovascular disease were mainly caused by microscopic "PM 2.5" particles that become lodged in lungs and enter the bloodstream, said the researchers.
The WHO has recommended that the density in the air of these risky microscopic particles should not exceed, on average, 10 microgrammes per cubic metre (35 mcg/m3) per year. "But now we understand the link with cardio issues, brain related issues, and some reproductive issues".
That figure is higher in Europe, with 133 extra deaths a year per 100,000, according to the study.
Prof Munzel added: "The number of deaths from cardiovascular disease that can be attributed to air pollution is much higher than expected".
Average life expectancy was reduced by 1.5 years among people in the United Kingdom dying as a result of air pollution, according to the study.
The study, published Tuesday in the European Heart Journal, found that air pollution caused an estimated 8.8 million extra deaths worldwide in 2015, topping previous estimates that suggested rising levels of air pollution caused 4.5 million and 6.5 million premature deaths in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
"Since most of the particulate matter and other air pollutants in Europe come from the burning of fossil fuels, we need to switch to other sources for generating energy urgently", said co-author Prof.
"The call for reassessment of current United Kingdom and European Union air quality regulations seem highly warranted".