Kuwait is tendering for a company to excavate, transport and dump around 500,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil from South East Kuwait, as part of a $2.9bn scheme to clean up pollution from the First Gulf War known as the Kuwait Environmental Remediation Project (KERP).

The contract is the second to target priority areas of contamination, according to Saad al-Saad, the senior technical consultant in Kuwait National Focal Point (KNFP).

“We’ve already awarded the contract to clean up priority areas in the north of the country. The latest tender is to do the same for the south,” he said.

The $28m contract to excavate contaminated soil from the north was awarded to Alghanim International in November 2014.

Priority areas are above aquifers and other places where prolonged exposure to pollutants could cause long-term damage that would be difficult to reverse.

The extensive pollution in Iraq’s north was caused in the final stages of the First Gulf War as Iraq’s retreating army torched over 600 of Kuwait’s oil wells. The fires burned for ten months before being extinguished, leaving behind a spill of around 22.5 million barrels of oil and damaging an area of 384 square kilometres.

Initially Kuwait planned to bury soil that has high levels of contamination, above 18 per cent oil, in 16 giant landfills. Surveys have found that there is around 26 million cubic metres of this sludge that needs to be cleared.

Due to fears that these large toxic landfills would cause problems for future generations Kuwait is now running studies to find out whether using new technologies to break down the oil is financially viable, something that would dramatically reduce the number of landfills needed.

In mid-2015 companies will be invited to submit proposals and prices for contracts that will allow them to demonstrate innovative remediation technologies, according to Al-Saad.

Al-Saad says as many as fifteen companies could be awarded small contracts in the technology trials as the state-owned Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) tries to find the most suitable technology.

The trial contracts are likely to see the selected firms each remediate about 10,000 cubic metres of highly contaminated soil.