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“It’s Christmastime on Oxford Street. Brilliant displays of white lights rain from above. Decked-out shoppers dash from one gaudy sale to the next. And Johnny ­Conquest breathes in poison.

“The air is horrible. The taxis stop right here, and when they take off, boom, you can taste it,” says the 67-year-old as the heavenly smell of the caramel peanuts he hawks from a humble street stall mingles with the sickly stench of diesel. “I’m on the worst corner in London.”

In at least one important respect, it may be the worst in the world.

London has come a long way since the days when its infamous coal-fired pollution shrouded Sherlock in a permanent haze or struck at least 4,000 residents dead in less than a week.

But the city’s overreliance on diesel-powered vehicles has given it a dubious distinction: a global leader in nitrogen dioxide, a particularly noxious pollutant that shortens the lives of thousands of Londoners a year.

Here and in cities across environmentally minded Europe, NO2 levels are substantially higher than in North America, or even in Asian and African megacities whose names have become bywords for dirty air. And that is all because of decades of government incentives designed to spur the purchase of supposedly cleaner diesel cars and trucks.

“It’s a complete policy failure,” said Gary Fuller, who directs an air-quality-study center at King’s College London. “No one could defend this.”

Rather than try, European mayors are declaring war on diesel, hoping to give their cities a clean start.

This month, mayors of three major European capitals, plus Mexico City, announced ambitious plans to ban all diesel vehicles within the next decade.

“We can no longer tolerate air pollution and the health problems and deaths it causes, particularly for our most vulnerable citizens,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who was joined in the pledge by the mayors of Athens and Madrid.

London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, has not gone as far — yet. But he has made reducing air pollution a central pillar of his young administration, more than doubling funding for clean-air campaigns with a billion-dollar commitment and announcing plans that will radically transform the city’s fleet of iconic — but diesel­-dependent — taxis and buses…”  The Washington Post. Read the full story on

Amid smoggy days in London, growing calls to clean up Europe’s toxic air