The current U.S. plan to assess the risks of nanotechnology to health and the environment has "serious weaknesses," according to a report issued by the U.S. National Research Council Wednesday.

The report did not evaluate current nanomaterials used in products today, but rather focused on a research plan developed under the Bush administration's National Nanotechnology Initiative to assess the risk of future nanomaterial use.

The report called for a national plan for identifying and managing potential risks, including goals to ensure nanomaterials are developed and used as safely as possible.

"The current plan catalogues nano-risk research across several federal agencies, but it does not present an overarching research strategy needed to gain public acceptance and realize the promise of nanotechnology," said committee chair David Eaton, a researcher at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of particles smaller than the width of a human hair to create structures with unique properties. More than 600 products involving nanomaterials are already on the market, the council report said, with the majority in skin care products and cosmetics. But nanotechnology is increasingly being used to create products such as electronics, food additives and medical therapies.

David Rejeski, the director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, a group that looks at social, political and public safety aspects of nanotechnology, said in a statement the report offers the administration of president-elect Barack Obama a guide to a possible new direction.

"The NRC report explicitly says that the federal plan 'does not have the essential elements of a research strategy,'" Rejeski said. "That is — if nothing else — a clear sign that it is time for a new start."