By Sam Bond (9 January 2006) ,As China braces itself for the impact of the third major spill of toxic pollutants in recent months, state officials have announced a multi-billion pound budget to combat river pollution over the next five years. The latest incident occurred on the Xiangjiang River in Hunan province in could affect over seven million people. It happened when a large amount of cadmium was washed into the river during the routine clean up of a smelting plant. At the time of the spill on January 4 state news service Xinhua reported that the cadmium levels were 25.6 times over safe limits. Downstream the river supplies a series of major towns and cities with drinking water. Following the accident the clean-up operation involved the deployment of booms to contain the spill, addition of chemicals to neutralise the cadmium and the opening of a dam to dilute the contaminated waters. Chinese officials say downstream drinking water has not been unduly affected by the spill and standard water treatment plants are still providing safe, potable water. Cadmium is a particularly nasty heavy metal and exposure can lead to a raft of ill effects, damaging the liver, kidneys and intestinal tract and it has also been linked to lung and prostate cancer. In an apparently unrelated move, the Chinese Government announced this week a massive spending plan to reduce river pollution at the Songhua basin, scene of November's widely-covered benzene spill (see related story). The plan will see 26.6 billion Yuan (over £2b) spent on water treatment facilities, with major cities along the lengthy river given priority. Over 60 million people depend on the river for their water supply and the Chinese authorities claim the funding will provide safe drinking water and sanitary conditions for at least 90% of the riparian population.