Born in Austria in 1924, Grad immigrated to the United States in 1939 to escape Nazism. He and his sister left Austria on the Kindertransport, and Grad lived with a family in England before coming to the U.S.
In 1959, Grad was given the task of revising the New York City Health Code, including provisions relating to water pollution and its prevention, control of sewage fallouts, and the control of toxic substances and poisons. The code also included numerous provisions relating to the protection of food and water supplies against contamination by pollutants.
In 1969, Grad became director of the Legislative Drafting Research Fund and a full-time faculty member. He chose to take on classes in an emerging area in which his expertise would prove invaluable: environmental law. Grad was the first to teach the subject at Columbia Law School and, when he couldn’t find any materials to teach with, he wrote one of the earliest books on the subject.
“Frank Grad was one of the true pioneers in the study and teaching of environmental law,” said Michael B. Gerrard, the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice and director of the Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “The field's seminal year was 1970 (when President Nixon created the EPA and signed the first major laws of the modern era), and Frank was out of the box with one of the first casebooks in 1971, and then one of the first treatises in 1973. He trained generations of environmental lawyers.”
Grad updated his eight-volume Treatise on Environmental Law twice a year.
According to a December 20, 1969, article in The New York Times, “Environmental Law is Attracting Students,” 69 students applied to be in Grad’s 18-seat first course. “The school, in an unusual relaxation of its rules, will permit 30 students to take the course,” the Times wrote.